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Marcus Camby's No. 21 retired at UMass ceremony



Last modified: Monday, February 11, 2013
AMHERST — It had been almost 17 years since Marcus Camby was last in the Mullins Center for a basketball game.

But after the former University of Massachusetts star had his No. 21 retired at halftime of the Minutemen’s 79-76 loss to George Washington on Saturday, Camby said he would not be away for so long again.

Camby, 38, who is in his 17th season in the NBA, now playing for the New York Knicks, acknowledged that his professional career probably does not have too much time left. He’s signed in New York for the next two seasons.

But with his friend and former teammate Derek Kellogg coaching UMass, Camby promised to be more of a presence in the program and at games.

“We’ve got one of our own running the program in D.K.,” Camby said. “Expect to see a lot more of me now. I’ve been involved ever since D.K. came back. He’s not just a coach, he’s a good friend of mine.

“I’ve been following the program from afar,” he added. “I owe a lot to this university and the people that helped me along the way. It feels good to be a UMass alum today.”

A native of Hartford, Conn., Camby was a key piece of the Minutemen’s NCAA tournament teams in 1993-94 and 1994-95. But he reached his peak as a junior. He earned All-America and National Player of the Year honors while leading UMass to the 1996 Final Four.

After he decided to enter the NBA draft a year early, Camby got in trouble with the NCAA for accepting money from a prospective agent while still an amateur. The infraction officially “vacated” the Final Four appearance for the Minutemen, and UMass was forced to return the TV revenue it earned from the experience. Camby, who was the second player selected in the NBA draft, repaid that money to the school and said he was proud that UMass wanted to honor him despite the incident.

“It means a lot. After everything that went on I said 20 million times that I accept full responsibility,” Camby said. “I chalked it up as growing up and becoming a man. That’s what I’ve become in all facets of life. The support I had tonight was tremendous. I’m very, very thankful.”

Camby, who is currently sidelined with a foot injury, still made the trip to London with the Knicks for Thursday’s game against the Detroit Pistons and did not return to the U.S. until Friday afternoon.

Upon arriving home, Camby checked his mail for a package from former Minuteman teammate Jason Germain, who works in athletic development for UMass.

Inside the box was a maroon tie with a UM logo that Camby wore throughout Saturday.

After his ride up from New York, Camby, seemingly like every returning UMass athlete, stopped at Antonio’s Pizza on North Pleasant Street in Amherst before heading to campus.

After signing a collection of items in athletic director John McCutcheon’s office, Camby visited the pregame reception for the Court Club, the basketball booster organization at UMass, where he gave a short speech after signing autographs and posing for pictures. Several people at the reception and in the crowd of 7,143 fans dusted off old replica jerseys with Camby’s No. 21 or Minuteman basketball T-shirts from his playing days.

He and his wife Eva watched the game from seats in the northwest corner of the Mullins Center. Before heading to the locker room to prepare his team for the second half, Kellogg, Camby’s teammate during two seasons, briefly took the microphone to salute his.

Master of ceremonies Josh Maurer then introduced Camby’s other former teammates in attendance – Dana Dingle, Carmelo Travieso, Craig Berry, Ted Cottrell and Germain. Also introduced were three of the other four players who have had their numbers retired at UMass — Lou Roe (who also played with Camby), Al Skinner and George “Trigger” Burke. The fourth, Julius Erving, was unable to attend.

A video package of Camby’s playing highlights was shown. Then his former coach at UMass, John Calipari, now the coach at Kentucky, followed with a taped message. Standing in front of framed UMass pictures in his Kentucky office, Calipari compared what Camby did for promoting college basketball in Massachusetts to what Doug Flutie did at Boston College to increase interest in college football.

“That was definitely a first,” Camby said laughing at the comparison between himself at 6-foot-11 to the 5-foot-10 quarterback.

Camby said he and Calipari are still close.

“We talk all the time,” Camby said. “I definitely wish he could have been here today, but he was here two years ago when I got inducted to the (UMass) Hall of Fame.”

Following Calipari, UMass unveiled the new banner showing No. 21 hanging in the southwest end zone before Camby himself took the microphone.

“I was a little nervous. Speaking in front of a lot of people is not my forte. My wife just told me to go out and speak from the heart. That’s what I tried to do,” Camby said.

He was humbled by the experience.

“It’s an extreme honor. I never thought something this special could happen to a guy like me,” Camby said. “To be back here and see a lot of familiar faces and a lot of my former teammates was definitely a special day.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.