Dallas Cameron was born to coach, he just didn’t know it
New basketball assistant coach plans to bring his winning ways to American University
According to Dallas Cameron, there is no obstacle on the basketball court too great to overcome.
“No matter what circumstance we’re in, no matter what challenge we face, there’s always a way to win,” Cameron said. “It’s just a matter of are you willing to push through that wall, through that adversity to find a way to win.”
Cameron’s zeal for competition on the court carries over to every conversation, and his will to win will serve him well as the newest assistant coach on American University men’s basketball team, and he will be a leading voice in the Eagle’s locker room.
“It’s all hands on deck at AU,” head coach Mike Brennan said. “Every facet of the program is a discussion amongst the staff, and he’s going to be involved in everything we do.”
Once you’ve met Cameron, a man with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Stephen F. Austin State University, and heard his Al Davis-like faculty with phraseology, it’s apparent he’ll have no problem providing observations for the team. Cameron said he is a collector of insight, wisdom that often inspires those he isn’t even coaching, and he said that he has a surplus of motivational statements at his disposal.
“I love quotes,” Cameron said. “I keep them in my phone as much as I can so I have something in my pocket.”
When Cameron speaks, there’s a subtle confidence of a man who has done a lot of winning in his career. The Florida native was a standout guard at Blanche Ely High School, won two state championships back to back in 2012 and 2013, was the state champion MVP in 2013, was named Basketball Player of the Year by the Sun Sentinel in 2013, and lettered four times.
His success did not stop once he reached NCAA Division I school Stephen F. Austin State University. There, Cameron helped the Lumberjacks win three straight Southland Conference titles, helped the Lumberjacks to three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament, won 107 games — the fourth-most in SFA history — and was one of five seniors ever who only lost one in conference game at home.
There is also a humbleness to Cameron’s conviction. Cameron said he views accomplishments as opportunities to lift others up and makes sure to thank God, his coaches, mentors and family first.
One of the coaches Cameron attributes his many accolades to is his legendary Florida high school basketball coach Melvin Randall. Cameron said that playing for the tenacious Randall helped form who he was as a player and gave Cameron confidence that he’d never had before.
“That chip on his shoulder is something he instilled in us as players,” Cameron said. “When I got there, there were times when I doubted myself, but he wouldn’t allow me to do that. He put that confidence in me, and sometimes it was unreasonable ... but he always believed in me.”
Cameron also said that Randall’s coaching influenced his win-at-all-costs attitude, and now as a coach, Cameron hopes to teach the same lessons to the men’s basketball team.
Another important influence in Cameron’s life was his mother Johonna and his father, also named Dallas. Cameron’s father was a football coach, his mother is a physical education teacher, was his childhood coach and Cameron helped his mother teach summer camps when he was a teenager. Cameron’s parents both gave him an incredible no-nonsense work ethic, but the gift for galvanizing comes from his mother, who also gave him his favorite motto for motivation.
“Every time I’d make an excuse, she would say ‘excuses are tools for the incompetent, which build monuments of nothingness, and those who specialize in them are seldom good at anything else,’” Cameron said. “She just kept making me say it, and I asked her how many times she was going to keep making me say it, and she said ‘once you memorize it, I’ll stop saying it.’”
Cameron said he did memorize the motto, to the point of hearing it in his head every time he went to make an excuse. Of course, a six-year-old Cameron said he didn’t know what the word “incompetent” meant and had to look it up, and the exercise gave him a lifelong passion for seeking out motivational slogans and quotes.
“I want to be able to be a mentor, I want to be able to be a role model, and so that puts a lot of responsibility on me to carry myself in a certain manner,” Cameron said. “I can’t tell our players something they should do and I’m not practicing the same thing. It holds me accountable, and that’s what family does. Family helps each other no matter what.”
Though he was surrounded by coaches in his youth, Cameron said he never wanted to be a coach, and that instead he just wanted to play basketball.
Cameron played professionally in Germany in 2018 after his collegiate career at SFA ended, but his attempts to continue his playing career overseas did not pan out. Cameron said didn’t want to leave the game he had dedicated his life to now that his playing career was over, and he felt a duty to give back to the younger players in his hometown and guide them on their basketball journey.
Cameron was an assistant coach at his alma mater Blanche Ely in 2018 and 2019 when they won back to back state championships, and as a graduate assistant and assistant video coordinator at Oklahoma State University under head coach Mike Boynton Jr., would help coach the Cowboys in the NCAA Tournament and assist in the development of future first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Cade Cunningham.
The 2021-22 season is still months away and Cameron just started with the Eagles, but his new boss has noticed his obvious knack for leading student-athletes.
“It’s hard to find, but when you get kids from really good programs it makes all the difference,” Brennan said. “His experience with winning I thought would be terrific for us.”
Cameron’s hiring is also somewhat of a homecoming for the former standout collegiate player, and a testament to the kind of coaching philosophy he preaches. Cameron said he was originally supposed to play for the Eagles, he toured AU in 2012 and even signed on to the dotted line to play for the Eagles. AU assistant coach Eddie Jackson had recruited Cameron when the former standout guard was dominating the opposition at Blanche Ely High School, and the two remained close during the nine intervening years. When Jackson and head coach Mike Brennan reached out to Cameron, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Now with AU, a team that fought through a difficult 2021 campaign beset with injuries, COVID-19 and ultimately ended in as frustrating a fashion as it began, Cameron is setting lofty goals for the Eagles.
“I always set the bar extremely high,” Cameron said. “I come into every game expecting to win every game. My expectation is to win as many games as we can, win the conference championship, win the conference tournament championship and make noise in the NCAA Tournament.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct years that Cameron coached at Blanche Ely and a misquote. A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that Cameron hailed from Pompano Beach, Florida.