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‘Not fazed:’ Villanova’s Cam Whitmore opens up on draft day slide, Houston Rockets

Draft day wasn’t easy, but it’s something Cam Whitmore is used to.

2023 NBA Draft Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Sometimes expressionless, at times emotionless.

Cam Whitmore’s athleticism is easy to detect on the basketball court, but his emotions are sometimes hard to calculate.

Once projected to be a top 10 draft pick, the 6-foot-7 wing slid downward, out of the lottery, and eventually back into Houston’s lap as the 20th pick.

As the clock ticked and teams took their turn, the draft day slide didn’t ruin the big moment for the usually stoic Whitmore.

“I had no idea where I was going to go,” Whitmore said. “Every time they kept counting down, didn’t know where I was going. I was praying, talking to God the whole entire time, but it is what it is. I was just training in Houston, so I’m going to go back.

“I’ve been overlooked a lot of times in my life, so it didn’t really faze me. I’m just really happy to be in the NBA. I dreamed about that my whole life. I’m really grateful for my parents being there, friends, family — everybody’s here. Best day of my life, so this is really the start.”

While Whitmore can make it look easy on the court, he’s no stranger to adversity. Before a preseason thumb injury delayed his collegiate debut, he overcame obstacles in high school, like an ankle injury that took away his final 10 games as a senior, and a broken tibia that cost his freshman year.

The Rockets had the fourth pick earlier in the 2023 NBA Draft and chose Amen Thompson out of Overtime Elite. While they passed on him the first time around, like many others, they made sure to scoop him up when they got another turn at the draft.

“This motivates me to 150%,” Whitmore said. “I don’t even know. I just have to rethink, go in the next day, free mind. Coming into that organization with a chip on my shoulder, I have a lot of motivation on my mind, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really faze me. I know I’m different from everybody else, but it’s just another chapter in my life, another journey. Time to get to work.”

Whitmore was this year’s Big East Freshman of the Year. After missing the first seven games, he finished with an average of 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.

“The athleticism, the physical attributes were all there,” said UConn coach Dan Hurley on facing Whitmore. “I was surprised this year how clean his shooting was. The expectation was he would be this athletic, talented rim slasher but I think he’ll be able to make threes.”

He became Villanova’s first true one-and-done since Tim Thomas in 1997, and the 10th Wildcat to be drafted over the last decade.

In the final days leading up to the 2023 NBA Draft, there were several emerging reports suggesting that Whitmore may fall out of the top 10. One of the concerns surrounded Whitmore’s medicals. Although he didn’t elaborate what the potential concerns were, Whitmore shut down suggestions of medical problems.

“No, I promise you not,” said Whitmore, when asked if he has health issues. “I have no idea. I don’t know what happened, but I feel fine. It’s my body. If they think it’s something different, they have their own opinions, but it’s my body.”

Whitmore joins a Houston Rockets team that is in rebuild mode, but is assembling plenty of young, promising talent. They had one of the youngest rosters in the NBA last season, as they went on to finish 22-60.

“We’re thrilled for Cam as he begins his professional journey,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said in a statement. “The Rockets are getting an outstanding player and person. Cam has rare talents that will translate very well to the NBA.”

More than half of the roster is aged 23 or younger. With plenty of promising, athletic teammates, Whitmore thinks he’ll fit in just fine.

“A lot of rebuilding going on, but it doesn’t really faze me,” Whitmore said. “At the end of the day, I’m just ready to be a Rocket. ... Everybody’s versatile, they just drafted Amen (Thompson), great player, great athlete, somebody I can play alongside. That versatility type, I can add that to the table.

“Everybody can do anything — defend, run the floor, rebound, block shots. They can shoot. That’s just an advantage. A lot of run and jump. It’s my playstyle, so I think I’ll be a great fit with those guys.”

Whitmore recently spent the last month-and-a-half training in Houston with performance coaches Leo Johnson and Aaron Miller, so he’s well-acquainted with the city, and he’ll finally get to call it his new home.

“Time to go back,” Whitmore said. “Get right back to work. That’s really it.”