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Appreciating Cam Spencer’s historic season



Cam Spencer
Jan 11, 2023; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Cam Spencer (10) reacts after making the game winning three-point basket against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason in full swing and roster moves underway, I wanted to highlight how valuable Cam Spencer was to Rutgers men’s basketball this past season. There were questions in the preseason as to whether he could successfully make the leap from the Patriot League to the Big Ten. The transition to high major college basketball saw Spencer go through an adjustment period. However, it’s hard to logically argue that his first season as a Scarlet Knight was anything other than a major success.

Statistically, it’s without question. Spencer earned a place in the record books in multiple categories for a single season.

He tied the most accurate three-point shooter in program history, Donnell Lumpkin, with the fifth highest single season three-point shooting percentage ever for RU at 43.4%. In fact, they shot an identical 72 of 166 from behind the arc. Lumpkin did so in the 1992-1993 season and holds the program’s best career mark of 41.8% shooting from three-point range. Spencer could potentially pass him next season for the all-time career mark.

Spencer also produced the fifth best free throw shooting percentage in a single season at 89.4%. He is sandwiched between Myles Mack who shot 89.5% in 2013-2014 and 88.2% in 2012-2013. Spencer could also potentially pass program great Bob Lloyd’s career mark of 89.8% next season, which is best in school history.

Both Spencer’s three-point shooting percentage and free throw shooting percentage were the second highest mark for Rutgers over the last 27 seasons. It was also Mack who topped him from three-point range during the 2012-2013 in shooting 46.2%. Before Mack and Spencer, the highest shooting percentage from behind the arc in a single season was Damon Santiago making 43.8% in 1995-1996. Spencer’s foul shooting was second only to Mack since Geoff Billet shot 90.0% from the line in the same season as Santiago 27 years ago.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Spencer swiped 69 steals. It’s the sixth most in a season in program history. Spencer’s 2.0 steals per game in Big Ten play was only topped by Co-Defensive Players of the Year Chase Audige and teammate Caleb McConnell. He was also just behind McConnell for season total as McConnell had 71 steals. It was the fourth highest total ever for the program, passing his own career best of 70 from the previous season. McConnell of course broke Eddie Jordan’s all-time career mark with 221 steals in his career, doing so in the season ending loss to Hofstra.

The fact that Cam Spencer finished the season in the top six all-time in three separate categories is insanely impressive. He shot on par with two of the best shooters in program history. He also swiped almost as many steals as the most accomplished defender in Rutgers history.

Let that sink in.

In regard to this past season’s Rutgers team, Spencer led the team in minutes played (1074) and was third in minutes per game (31.6). He tied Cliff Omoruyi for scoring average at 13.2 points per game, but fell one point short for the team lead with 448 points.

Spencer had the highest offensive rating on the team at 119.4, which is No. 143 nationally. In addition to being second in steals, he was also second in assists behind Paul Mulcahy in averaging 3.1 per game. Lastly, Cam was also second to Mulcahy with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Critics have pointed to a few dry spells he had as a shooter. He struggled in key non-conference losses to Temple, Miami and Seton Hall. Cam shot just a combined 8 of 29 from the floor and was only 1 of 14 from three. He also had three additional games without making a shot from behind the arc. Spencer was 0 of 5 in the win over Michigan State and a combined 0 of 4 in losses at Iowa and Illinois.

That being said, there were far more good to great shooting nights than not. He hit game winning threes at Purdue and at Northwestern in consecutive weeks. Spencer was 6 of 8 from the floor and 2 of 4 from three in the win over the No. 1 Boilermakers. He was 7 of 14 from the floor and a blistering 6 of 7 from behind the arc in the win over the Wildcats.

His performance in the one point win at Wisconsin was also heroic. Spencer had a monster first half to keep Rutgers in the game without Caleb McConnell and Mawot Mag. He finished 7 of 14 from the floor and 6 of 10 from three-point range.

Spencer scored in double digits in 24 of 34 games. 15 different times, Cam scored 15 or more points . He was the best offensive player on Rutgers by a wide margin this past season. He was the most efficient shooter the program has had in a decade since Myles Mack. Per KenPom, Spencer was 23rd nationally in free throw shooting percentage and 44th in three-point shooting percentage.

If Spencer can shoot at the same high level next season, he’ll join Mack and program great Quincy Douby as the three best shooters at Rutgers this century.

However, labeling Spencer just as a shooter is selling his game short. This past season, he ranked in the top 500 nationally for a 3.9 steal rate (44th), 19.9 assist rate (411th), 13.1% turnover rate (376th), 78.2% minutes played (393rd), and 2.4 fouls called against per 40 minutes (486th).

There were also a nicknames he inspired, some better than others. The Court Club anointed Spencer “The Camdy Man.” There is also a  shirt for sale by Knight and Day apparel highlighting “Killa Cam” which I think Ron Harper Jr. coined first.

Overall, Spencer was extremely durable and reliable for a Rutgers team that had three starters suffer multiple injuries throughout the season. He rebounded well for his size and position, made good decisions most of the time and was a good passer. Perhaps most importantly, he was able to stay on the court and always played hard.

Admittedly, Spencer was better defensively than I though he would be. He led the Patriot League in steals two seasons ago. However, it was fair to be concerned with how he would hold up as a defender in the Big Ten. His anticipation skills proved elite and he was a better on ball defender than expected. While he struggled at times against quicker, smaller guards, his footwork and fundamentals allowed him to hold his own.

Perhaps his biggest fault was not being selfish enough with his shot. He wasn’t assertive enough in calling for the ball. Part of that is on the coaching staff as well. He came through in many big spots. Of course, he missed some too. While Spencer struggled at times to create his own shot off the dribble, he was very good in using his body to get to the rim and finish in certain spots. His confidence wavered at times. Becoming a focal point in how opponents game plan for Rutgers was an adjustment and muted his production for extended stretches.

Another positive is Spencer’s moxie and work ethic. He energized Rutgers at times in making big shots but also playing with an edge. RU desperately needed more swagger and Cam brought it. At times, he looked like a man possessed when things were clicking on all cylinders. It was fun to watch.

He’s in the gym working out often. Spencer is respected throughout the program. His dedication for working on his game so thoroughly can be infectious and have a positive impact on the entire team. By all accounts he is a great teammate.

Landing Cam Spencer from the transfer portal was a home run by Pikiell and the staff.

The big picture takeaway is that it seems realistic to expect near the same or even better production from Spencer next season. In discussing the roster last week, Pikiell gave the indication that Spencer would return for his final season of eligibility. He’ll have a year of Big Ten experience under his belt. There will be at a minimum, another pure shooter on the roster in high 4-star recruit. Gavin Griffiths, on the roster. Expect Rutgers to add another shooter or playmaker through the transfer portal. And of course, the continued development of Derek Simpson will help too. More offensive weapons that defenses need to pay attention to, the more that Spencer can outsmart them.

So take a minute to appreciate what Cam Spencer did for Rutgers during the 2022-2023 season. And cherish the fact that he is set to return next season. Now dream of how he could be even better. It’s not of the pipe variety, but rather a realistic one.

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  1. BataliBoli98

    March 29, 2023 at 2:15 am

    For a very quick second I was very nervous when I opened the page worried that perhaps he entered the portal. Yikes. I couldn’t agree more with everything that Aaron wrote. The fact that RU lost the Temple, Miami, and SHU games on nights when Cam really struggled says so much about his value. Also, I completely agree that with Simpson and Griffiths, and I hope another guy who can attack the basket and stretch the floor entering via the portal will make Cam even more lethal next year. RU struggled mightily at times to get Cam open looks, but because next year’s squad will have more shooters and dribble penetrators it should create better spacing.

    Aaron, 46.2% for Mack was better than what I remember. Was that with the old 3-point line that extended from the top of the key? I feel like the line was pushed out at least a few years before 2012-13.

  2. Henry Rutgers

    March 29, 2023 at 12:03 pm

    What a great article! Lumpkin. Wow, I remember watching him play. Our seats were about the same then as today so we saw his coach’s reaction when he let loose with a long range three. Interestingly, it was not always a joyful reaction and sometimes resulted in him being pulled. I do recall that Lumpkin was pretty lax on the defensive side of the court.

    Not only did you write a quality article but a wonderful reminder of all the many talented players we’ve seen come through the program (including Lumpkin). A very nice blend of the old and new which is meaningful to the old (or people like us that have followed and supported the program for decades).

    As I read the article, I thought to myself Coach Pikiell should probably troll the Patriot League for more Spencer like talent. And yes, it was great that you balanced the article with positives and negatives. I just wonder about the period of time when he looked like he’d rather pass than create a shooting opportunity if that was of his own volition or coached to do so.

    • FlaRef

      March 29, 2023 at 12:39 pm

      Yessir, great recap of RU scorers over the years. Wasn’t Lumpkin with the ball held high over his shoulder when taking the long shot? Anyway, great season for Cam and RU would not have had the success this season without his play on both ends of the court. Looking forward to seeing him next year with full season under his belt.

  3. thevinman

    March 29, 2023 at 4:32 pm

    Cam was amazing and certainly far better than I ever hoped he could be. Does he need to improve in some areas? Aaron pointed out what needs to improve in this article, and you can be sure he will work his butt off to do so. What would really help Cam is the emergence of one or two more reliable 3 point shooters and the continued development of Derek and his ability to pass the ball outside to guys at the 3 point line when he drives and draws a crowd.

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