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Cam Spencer‘s battle through adversity has fueled his success

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The Rutgers commit should be a tremendous fit for the program.

NCAA Basketball: Patriot League Conference Championship- Loyola-Maryland vs Colgate Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers landed impact transfer Cam Spencer on Tuesday after he took an official visit this past week. The First Team All-Patriot League selection is a standout shooter but was also one of the most efficient and well-rounded players in all of college basketball last season. The most impressive part of his performance for Loyola-Maryland during the 2021-2022 campaign was what he fought through to accomplish it.

It was the first time Spencer was healthy in his college career after battling a hip injury in his first two seasons. “It was a constant pain, but as I continued to play on it, it would shoot up my hip and pretty much just give out on me,” Spencer described to the Baltimore Sun. “It would shoot up the front of my hip, and it just felt like a knife was hitting me there.”

He only played in the last five games of the 2020-2021 season after recovering from surgery to repair a “deformity” that prevented his femur bone to properly attach to the hip joint.

At the time of his return, Loyola-Maryland head coach Tavaras Hardy told the Baltimore Sun that “He’s important in every aspect that we do because he really knows how to play the game offensively and defensively. He sees things, he can pass, he can shoot, he can get guys fired up in understanding what is right in those moments, and he’s a competitor. All of those things are what we needed, so it’s been good to add that to the team. It’s what we thought we were going to have from the get-go.”

Hardy added, “He’s one of those guys that I can look in the eye and I can tell that his drive and determination are boiling,” he said. “So sometimes you’ve got to calm him down, but in my opinion, that’s a good problem to have. I want guys that are fired up like that.”

Spencer’s roommate during his sophomore season was Santi Aldama, who was the selected 30th in the First Round of the 2021 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. After Spencer’s return ahead of the postseason for Loyola-Maryland, Aldama told the Baltimore Sun, “The way he went about his business with the rehab every day, he just worked to be back out here,” Aldama said. “I know that he’s still not 100%, but he’s still playing at a great level. That’s what we needed from him. He could have waited another year to be at 100%. He didn’t practice much, but he came and played. So we’ve got to be grateful for that. He’s already playing at a high level. So he’s going to help us out a lot in these playoffs.”

Aldama also stressed that through the entire process, Spencer never complained or made excuses about his injury.

The surgery to repair Spencer’s hip was successful and he flourished during the 2021-2022 season. He led the Patriot League in scoring, steals and minutes played, which helped earn him First Team conference honors. That last stat is perhaps the most telling in his ability to play that much over the course of the season in which he didn’t miss one game.

Spencer’s former high school basketball coach, Cliff Rees, saw his potential all along. He told the Baltimore Sun in March 2021 that “Cam is a special talent. It’s frustrating that he has had to deal with this nagging injury for so long because I still think it is limiting him to some degree. If fully healthy and feeling good, I think people would be shocked at how good this guy is.”

His will to fight through adversity wasn’t new. He was an unranked recruit in the class of 2019 and Loyola-Maryland was the only school to offer him a Division I scholarship. The Davidsonville, Maryland native took advantage of the opportunity and emerged as the Greyhounds best player this past season while fully healthy.

“I think Cam by nature can do everything we need him to do within our offense,” Hardy told the Baltimore Sun during this past season. “He can make shots from the perimeter, he can take it to the basket, he can make midrange shots. He’s just able to do that. He has a lot of opportunities, and he’s taking advantage of them. He and the rest of our guys knew that we wouldn’t have Santi this year and that they were all going to have to step up. So it’s just been good for him to be able to play his complete game with what he brings to the table.”

Hardy also told WBAL TV, “The thing about him is he’s such a competitor, such a winner. He’ll do whatever it takes. If he has to score 20 points — clearly, he has been from game to game — he’ll do so. But he’ll also get his guys involved and get better, and that complete player is what we need.”

Navy head coach Ed DeChellis, whose team beat Loyola-Maryland twice by a combined three points on the way to finishing second in the Patriot League, had high praise for Spencer.

“I see him being like the floor general and giving the other guys courage with his communication and talking,” DeChellis told the Baltimore Sun. “He makes plays to help other guys. I think he makes the other guys on the team better. He understands their offense, and he makes good decisions.”

There are many reasons that Spencer appears to be an excellent fit for Steve Pikiell and Rutgers basketball. He exceeded expectations at Loyola-Maryland and will likely bring a chip on his shoulder after being doubted most of his career. He plays with passion and has a strong work ethic. Spencer plays hard on both ends of the floor and wants to win above all else. Those traits helped attract him to Rutgers and he quickly connected with Pikiell.

“We both have the same love for the game of basketball,” Spencer told Brian Fonseca of NJ Advance Media. “He told me he’s all basketball, doesn’t do much else which is pretty similar to me. I think our love for the game is pretty similar.”

As for what his role will be, Spencer should have every opportunity to fill the two spot in the starting lineup long held by program changer Geo Baker. Rutgers needs a shooter but also a team player as well. It appears they got both in Spencer.

“We talked about the roster coming back and kind of where I can fit in,” Spencer said. “They have some great pieces coming back and (Pikiell) thinks I can come in and help them score the ball a little bit and also pass the ball as well and do whatever I need to do to help the team win.”

Fonseca also spoke to Rees, who coached Spencer at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland prior to college, and he gave a detailed breakdown of his game.

“He’s not just a stand-up, spot shooter like a lot of guys,” Rees told Fonseca. “He can create his own shots, but he’s better at creating shots for his teammates and moving to open spots and getting open from there. He’s going to create opportunities for his teammates first. He’s a very unselfish player, but when you need that dagger jumper nailed, he’s going to be the guy that’s going to drain it. I can guarantee you that.”

Obviously the jump from the Patriot League to the Big Ten is a significant step up in competition. Spencer knows he’ll need to continue to improve in order to make a similar impact at Rutgers to the one he made at Loyola-Maryland.

“The main thing for me is to work on some things like getting a quicker release on my shot and not speeding up my game,” Spencer said. “I always pride myself on playing at my own pace. I just want to continue that as well. I look forward to the transition.”

Not only does Spencer seem like a tremendous fit for the program, they’ve added one of the highest ranked transfers available in the portal this offseason. Spencer was rated the 9th best transfer player available in the portal per Bart Torvik and as a 4-star transfer per Evan Mikayama. Both ranking services are based on advanced stats. He was listed in the top 50 transfers available by national writers Sam Vecenie and CJ Moore of the Athletic as well as Jeff Goodman of the Stadium.

With a core of Cliff Omoruyi and Paul Mulcahy returning, along with three other rotation players from last season’s NCAA Tournament, adding Spencer gives this team a much needed proven scorer and experienced player. With the potential return of Caleb McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, still very much a possibility, expectations for next season could rise even further with Spencer now in the fold. He told Fonseca they’re getting something else too.

“(Rutgers is) getting a competitor,” he said. “I’m somebody who is all about winning. I just want to do anything that the team needs for me to help the team win.”

He sounds like he’ll adjust well into Steve Pikiell’s program immediately. Fit has always been a priority for Pikiell and landing a player with Spencer’s skill set along with his attitude make this a big win on paper. The fact that he has two years of eligibility remaining makes him an even more intriguing addition for Rutgers. His potential to make a major impact for the Scarlet Knights is very strong and Spencer should be a fun player for fans to watch on the court next season and beyond.

To read our full breakdown of Spencer’s game along with highlights, click here.