It’s past midnight on a cold November night, and most of the Pacific Lutheran University men’s basketball players went home after a disappointing eight-point loss against the University of Texas at Dallas a few hours earlier.
But a basketball bouncing on the hardwood floor echoed throughout the empty stands inside PLU’s Olson Gymnasium, where Cameron Schilling, still wearing his Lutes uniform, sought peace and sanctuary after a rough performance.
He would stop and head for the comfort of his bed, but Schilling thought about how his uncle always said that when you stop working, someone else starts.
Schilling glanced at the clock and saw it was almost 1 a.m. He then stared at the team room, wondering if he should make himself a place to sleep there, or head home.
“My big thing up until this year was, ‘What is Caleb Shelton (a former standout at University of Puget Sound) doing?’ Now it’s, ‘How hard is Wade Gebbers working at Whitworth?’ ” Schilling said. “So I just tell myself to keep working because I don’t want anyone to outwork me.”
Schilling scored seven points on 20 percent shooting in the loss, but responded with a much-improved performance the next night against New Hope Christian, recording 18 points on 53 percent shooting.
On the season, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior is leading the Lutes in points (14.5 per game), rebounds (7.2) and assists (3.0).
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be playing basketball.
PLU men’s soccer coach John Yorke initially recruited Schilling out of Decatur High School to play center back. Schilling was overshadowed by talented players on the Decatur basketball team and was relegated to the fourth option.
Schilling still sent an email to PLU basketball coach Steve Dickerson just in case he had room for a walk-on. After watching Schilling at open gyms that summer, Dickerson knew he needed to make room.
“My parents only wanted me to play one sport so I could focus on academics,” Schilling said. “I was torn because basketball was always my first love. I think I was better at soccer, but after wrestling with it a couple weeks, I thought I would have a better chance at getting time immediately on the basketball team if I worked my butt off.”
Schilling, who never played soccer for PLU, has started 88 of the Lutes’ 94 games the past four seasons. His scoring, rebounding and role have increased each season.
His play this season has some Northwest Conference coaches saying he could be the league MVP.
“I think Cameron Schilling is one of, if not the best player in the league,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said following a three-point victory against the Lutes on Jan. 26.
Not bad for a guy who was the fourth-option on his high school team.
“He is probably one of the hardest working players – and I’ve had a lot of hard working players – I’ve ever had,” Dickerson said. “That’s how you take yourself from the fourth-option to being arguably one of the best players in the league. He has done it simply through hard work and desire, and that’s a credit to him and nobody else.
“We have tried to help him along the way, but this is because of him. I can’t begin to tell you how much he has meant for this program with his example.”
Schilling entered the program as a defensive specialist and a rebounder, but he pushed himself to evolve his game in some aspect each season. First it was adding post moves, then a reliable 3-point shot and this season he’s playing more facing the basket, which allowed Dickerson to revolve the offense around him and his playmaking ability.
His transformation doesn’t surprise Decatur coach Kevin Olson. Though Schilling wasn’t a top option for the Gators, Olson said it was because he didn’t need to be.
“His work ethic is second to none. Any time we talk about him, we describe him as the glue guy that held everything together,” said Olson, who also played basketball at PLU. “The best teams always have guys that can do that, have no ego and do whatever it takes to make the team successful.
“He was what every coach wants. He never complained about anything, understood his role and put the team first. He is one of my all-time favorite players, for sure.”
Schilling said his dad still asks him if he is bitter about not having a bigger role at Decatur.
“He’ll say, ‘Are you upset that Olson didn’t give you the nod?’ And I’m like, you know what? No, because the team success we had there outweighed my desire to have individual success so much so that I wasn’t bitter or anything like that,” Schilling said. “You want to score the basketball and obviously I have thought about that and it still crosses my mind, but from my sophomore year to my senior year, we were never ranked outside the top five in the state. We made it to the state tournament every year. I got to go to the Tacoma Dome and to the state semifinals. I’m still getting chills talking about it because that is one of those things you always dream of being able to do.”
Schilling didn’t let the team success at Decatur keep him from continuing to push himself to get better. He doesn’t stop pushing himself just because he successfully walked-on at PLU, started as a freshman, or even now as he leads the Lutes in every major statistical category. It doesn’t stop him from going to the gym past midnight when he could be sleeping.
But that’s just who he is.
“Doing whatever it takes to get better, working hard – that’s my M.O. (modus operandi),” Schilling said. “No matter what it may be – basketball, school, work, friends, family – just making myself better. If you work hard enough, it’s inevitable that you are going to have success eventually.
“You find a certain level of peace in that. There aren’t too many better feelings than being the first person into the gym, having it all to yourself and being the last one out.”