Cam Spencer Is Ready To Compete In The NBA

The process leading up to the NBA Draft can be pretty annoying for prospects. It’s crucial for prospective players who want to make a good impression as they prepare to enter the league, but let’s face it, going through workouts and interviews all over the country can be pretty stressful. If you don’t put your best foot forward in your one opportunity with a team in person, they can decide they’re knocking you down a few spots on their big board, or taking you off of it altogether.

Cam Spencer doesn’t quite view things like that. Spencer, the veteran guard who will enter the Draft after a sterling season at the University of Connecticut which ended with a national championship, has a big smile on his face as he’s discussing the workouts he’s been put through ahead of the 2024 NBA Draft on June 26 and June 27.

He looks back on his last two stops in college. Spencer started his career at Loyola, the Patriot League school in Maryland which gave him his only offer after a productive high school career. After three years, he spent a year at Rutgers before heading to Storrs, and admits that the practices he had under both Steve Pikiell and Hurley were “for sure” harder than what teams are putting him through.

But ultimately, a grin pops up on his face as he says the sentence that has come to define Cam Spencer on his basketball journey.

“Any time you get to compete,” Spencer tells Dime, “is a lot of fun to me.”

Watch Spencer play basketball for two seconds and you can see he’s just wired a little differently. Quantifying competitiveness is, of course, impossible — there’s no one stat that can measure a basketball player’s love for the game or anything like that. So, all you have to go off of is what people say. Both Hurley and big man Donovan Clingan, who is primed to go high in the first round on Wednesday night, spoke glowingly to The Athletic about Spencer’s commitment to excellence and the standard to which he holds himself and others.

In discussing how he responds to and processes a loss, Spencer says something that seems hyperbolic but comes off as 100 percent serious.

“Get back in the gym as soon as possible,” he says. “Definitely watching film right away. It’s extreme, but I’d rather die than lose, honestly. It’s just that sickening of a feeling, and those days in between games after you lose, they feel like years. So, definitely watching a lot of film, just trying to get better, and can’t wait to get back on the court to compete again, the next time, to go win.”

A self-described “sports junkie” who played lacrosse and football as a child (basketball, he notes, was his first love), Spencer grew up the middle of three brothers — his older brother, Pat, was an all-time great lacrosse star at Loyola for four years before grad transferring to Northwerern, where he played basketball, and is now with the Golden State Warriors on a two-way deal. His younger brother, Will, plays basketball at Hood College in Maryland.

While he stresses that they were all one another’s biggest supporters, things frequently got heated. Whether it was playing cards, or golfing, or shooting hoops, or anything else, there were “a lot of fights growing up, for sure.” I couldn’t help but laugh when I asked if there was one particular story of a time when things boiled over among the brothers and he just couldn’t, because there were too many examples for one to stick out. And yet, growing up in this environment was critical for Spencer as he got to this point.

“I think it’s just who I am by nature, and like I said, from the household that I grew up in, just the intensity and the passion for winning are just things that are kind of in me,” Spencer says. “And I think that’s contributed a long way to where I am today in my career, but I can’t hide it, that’s just how I am. I love to win and hate to lose. So, I definitely contribute my competitiveness and my intensity and passion for winning as a big reason why I am where I am today.”

Spencer got to this point by proving he could play at every level he’s made. That started by proving what he could do at a D1 school, then a Big Ten school, before ultimately heading to the Big East for the defending national champions.

He played for three radically different programs in his career. Loyla isn’t exactly a college basketball powerhouse, and while Rutgers made the NIT during his one year there, it’s a school that has generally struggled to consistently have success until recently under Pikiell. UConn were the defending national champions at the time he joined. In making the case for himself at the next level, Spencer points out that he’s had to be versatile enough to adapt to joining a new team on three separate occasions.

All three schools had similarities that Spencer appreciated — a “blue collar nature,” he calls it, built around a strong work ethic, toughness, intensity, passion, and a team-first approach. He also got the experience of having the game taken away from him during his sophomore year, as he needed hip surgery, which limited him to only five games all season.

“It taught me a lot of things, as far as appreciating the game more,” Spencer says. “Every day is not promised, you could get hurt the next day — knock on wood that doesn’t happen. But, every day is not guaranteed. It’s cliche, but I think it just taught me to appreciate every practive, every game, every time I get to step on the court that much more … Watching from the sideline is, like, the worst feeling in the world. To have basketball taken away from me early on in my career taught me to take advantage of every opportunity I get on the court.”

He’s managed to do that in a big way. Spencer was one of the top-250 players in all of college basketball in offensive rating every year he was healthy, and as a senior with UConn, he was ranked No. 1. You would never have been able to tell that he was the new guy in Storrs last year, as the first-team All-Big East and Final Four All-Tournament team selection averaged 14.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals in 33 minutes per game while shooting 44 percent from three on 5.6 attempts a night.

The ability to shoot the basketball has long been a strength, one that Spencer has worked hard to improve upon — for his collegiate career, he shot 41.7 percent from deep and 87.8 percent from the free throw line, with both of those numbers ticking slightly up after he jumped to the P5 level for his final two seasons. In his invaluable NBA Draft guide, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic notes that “from a skill perspective, Spencer might be the best shooter in this draft class.” It’s the skill that will get him to the NBA, and Spencer believes that his background in another sport has helped him build on that.

“I think from playing multiple sports and coming from lacrosse, you have to learn how to be able to not only shoot and score, but read the defense and make the right play when a help defender is rotating over and finding the open man,” he says. “So, I think being able to pass the ball has always been something that I’ve prided myself on. Because my strength is shooting, guys will have to play me out farther, and that opens up other areas, to get in the paint and make the right play, make the right basketball play.”

Spencer understands that there’s a big jump coming, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. He’s not the most physically imposing dude in the draft by any stretch — he came in at the NBA Draft Combine at 6’3 with a 6’5 wingspan, and didn’t blow anyone away with his athleticism numbers. And yet, between putting in the work to get better on that end of the floor, his competitive disposition, and his understanding of the importance of the “little technical details” give him confidence.

“It all starts with being able to guard the ball one-on-one,” Spencer says. “That makes defense a lot easier. But it’s also the little technical details of defense as far as getting into a guy and forcing them into a screen in the pick-and-roll, being a good communicator off ball, being in the right help position or being in the gap when you need to be. So, I think it’s a lot of little things that help to contribute to being a great defender at the next level.”

Spencer is, in just about every way you can imagine, a basketball junkie. During the NBA Finals, he appreciated how both the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks played “as a unit” and that their role players came up big on their path to that point. He loves watching Jalen Brunson, citing the pace he plays at, his footwork, how he plays off of two feet, and the way he’s able to use his body to create separation from defenders.

He’s totally off of social media. “I’m trying to be a great basketball player,” he says. “I don’t really need social media.” What’s he doing instead? Well, watching a college or an NBA game is an option, as is spending time on the golf course. And then there’s the third option, which he simply describes as “trying to find something competitive.”