[Ed. Note: This is the fourth installment of KSR’s “Next Man Up” series profiling Kentucky’s 2020 signees. Previously, Jack Pilgrim wrote about Lance Ware, while Aaron Torres profiled BJ Boston and Devin Askew]
After making the near four-hour trek west to St. Louis, Missouri on a sunny, brisk February afternoon, the Vashon High School front office staff politely asked if I could wait just a few more minutes while the star of the evening was making his way back to campus.
An antsy Cam'Ron Fletcher, one of Kentucky basketball's six high school signees in the class of 2020, had gone to get a last-minute haircut and run a few final errands to get ready for his final home basketball game of his career.
"It's his big day," one office clerk said. "He's pretty excited about it."
Cleaned up and looking sharp for his much-anticipated Senior Night, the 6-foot-6 forward busted back through the double doors and barreled his way down the hall to a side conference room near the front office just a few hours before the game.
Before his four-year career could be celebrated in front of over a dozen family members and close friends, along with hundreds of crazed Vashon Wolverine supporters, the four-star forward walked in, introduced himself, and sat down with his backpack and a confident smile, ready to share his story with the Big Blue Nation.
Who is Cam'Ron Fletcher?
"I'm happy, but also sad at the same time," Fletcher said when asked about his nerves and general feelings about Senior Night. "It's my last home game where I played my last four years. It all went by so fast. It should be a good game tonight."
A good game it was, as the Kentucky signee finished with a team-high 28 points in a dominant 85-64 victory in front of none other than UK head coach John Calipari and associate head coach Kenny Payne.
On the court, fans are likely familiar with his game. As a strong, athletic forward with solid length, the four-star prospect made a name for himself at the high school level as a transition specialist, high-flying dunker, and defensive standout.
Off the court, though, what can fans expect from the future Wildcat?
"My personality, I just feel that I'm a cool kid. I'm just cool, everything about me is cool," Fletcher said with a laugh. "Outside of basketball, I just like to hang with friends, vibe with my teammates a little bit, play video games, hang out, stuff like that. I'm just a kid."
"Cam'Ron off the floor, he's a typical kid," his mother, Tamika Fletcher, told KSR. "He likes to have fun and be around his friends, listen to music. He's kind of shy to a certain extent, but when he's around his immediate family and his friends, he's just that outgoing kid. He's always got a smile on his face, very bubbly."
When asked about what fans would be surprised to know about him, Fletcher was quick to laugh at himself for one of his biggest - albeit slightly embarrassing - habits.
"I like to sing in the shower," Fletcher said. "I don't really have a favorite song to sing, just whatever comes to mind, I just love singing in the shower. I love listening to music, so whatever song comes on while I'm in the shower, I just start singing it."
Fletcher's mother can vouch for his shower-singing tendencies, a daily practice of his to start the morning.
"Yes, goodness, yes," Tamika Fletcher said. "Cam'Ron gets up in the morning before school, and the first thing he does is turn on his music on his phone. That's how he gets dressed. He gets in the shower, and whatever music is on, he's singing in that shower. I'm like, "Cam... Come on."'
Life in St. Louis
Like most high-profile athletes, Fletcher sticks to a dedicated and strenuous training regimen with NBA dreams at the forefront of his mind, but also enjoys hanging out with his friends and being a "normal" kid in his down time. Unlike most kids and athletes, though, the St. Louis native is doing so coming out of one of the most dangerous and deadly cities in the United States.
In a ranking of the U.S. cities with the highest rates of violent crime in both 2017
, CBS News listed St. Louis at No. 1 in the nation, with the city's total homicide rate finishing roughly ten times above the national average in 2017.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there were 194 homicides (including 11 children) in 2019, the second-highest total of the decade for the city. That total trailed only 2017, where the city saw a total of 205 killings recorded, including nine children ages 16 and younger. Stuck between those two years in 2018, St. Louis had the 15th-highest homicide rate in the world and the highest in the United States, with 60.59 homicides per 100,000 residents, per Business Insider.
Just last month, Fox2now reported
that murders in St. Louis are up about 23 percent from this time a year ago.
For Fletcher, he knows his journey could've been far different with one slight turn down the wrong path. Instead, he's hoping his story can serve as inspiration for other up-and-coming athletes from his hometown who will have a similar decision to make as they grow up.
"It means a lot to me, you know? Where I'm from in St. Louis, not a lot of people make it out,"
Fletcher said. "Like, they don't get to make it to the NBA or just make it big. I mean, St. Louis is a pretty hectic city, so staying away from all that, it made me a better person. I didn't have to worry about all of the murdering and stuff like that because I never had anything to do with it.
"It's a big city and it's hard to make it out. You never know when your time is going to come. If you can stay out of the way of all that, you can do big things like I'm doing. Traveling out of town so you don't have to be here as much, make a name for yourself. It can happen to you."
Growing up, the Kentucky signee looked to others from his area for advice, both good and bad. For those who did manage to make it out, he sought guidance on how to follow in those same footsteps and make a name for himself to close out his high school career, at the next level, and beyond.
"Some of the people that did
make it out, I look up to," he said. "They tell me what they did and what I shouldn't do if I want to make it like them. [Former Missouri guard and current Vashon High School assistant] Jimmy McKinney, he tells me things he did and things he doesn't want me to do because he wants me to make it."
Fletcher's mother credits her oldest son, Jalen, for also being a supportive big brother and role model to Cam'Ron. By taking the future Wildcat under his wing early, Jalen helped keep Cam'Ron on the right path and off the streets.
"I owe a lot of that to my older son," Tamika Fletcher told KSR. "Cam'Ron looks up to him and saw him go to college, he'd go up there and hang out with him. They'd work out and practice together, he helped keep him off the streets. ... [Cam'Ron] could've been doing something way different than playing basketball. I'm extremely happy and grateful he didn't go down that route and that he was able to stay focused and find something different to do.
"Again, with different friends and types of places where we stayed, where he grew up, a lot of the kids didn't make it," Fletcher continued. "A lot of them are not here [anymore to find a way out]. I owe it to my oldest son because he took him under his wing and showed him a lot, kept him out of trouble."
Life before basketball
Growing up, Fletcher's family felt pushing Cam'Ron to play sports was the ideal answer for keeping him focused and driven. His mother and sister had run track, while his brother had played basketball.
Picking the right sport for Fletcher, though, was the biggest challenge.
"I did run track for a couple years, but I didn't like it," the Kentucky signee said. "It was just too much running for me, for no reason."
Tamika Fletcher confirmed her son's self evaluation as a track athlete, giggling while reminiscing about Cam'Ron's hatred for the sport.
"He did [run track], he hated it," Fletcher chuckled. "My daughter, she ran for the longest time. I wanted him to do something because he was always so busy, always wanted to go, go, go. So I told him we were gonna see how this works out before basketball. He went out there and he did okay. See, my daughter was a sprinter, so he thought he
was a sprinter. But the thing is, he wasn't as fast. He just wasn't fast. So I told him, "Cam, you're not a sprinter, you have to mid distance or the long distance." He said, "No, forget it, I don't want to do it. I don't like that." So he started playing basketball before the [track] season was over, and the next year, he didn't want to run again."
Before going all-in on basketball, they also experimented with football. But like track, it was a big swing-and-miss.
"Football, it was too cold and too hot," Fletcher said. "I didn't like tackling and hitting people, it was just too much."
"It wasn't difficult to make him go to football practice because, for one, he got hit once in football, and that was it for him," the UK signee's mother laughed. "He didn't like that contact. Football didn't even last as long as track did. He didn't like that contact at all, so that was the end of football."
The love for basketball begins
After failed attempts at track and football, a curious Fletcher began following his older brother, Jalen, to his high school basketball practices. There, Cam'Ron would watch closely while shooting on the gym's side goals, with his love for the game slowly emerging.
"What really made me fall in love with basketball was my big brother," Fletcher said. "When he used to have high school practices, I would go watch him and shoot on the side hoops. That made me like the game of basketball, and then ever since, I started loving it because I kept getting better and better."
Like a foal finding its legs for the first time, Fletcher quickly came to the realization that he could make a name for himself as a basketball player the summer going into his sophomore year during a team camp at Missouri State.
It took just a few dominant performances against his peers before he knew it was time to take the game of basketball more seriously.
"When I first got to [Vashon] I could barely dunk. After my freshman year, I could start dunking, started shooting better," he said. "I started noticing [I could be good] my sophomore year, I'd say. I was down at Missouri State in the summertime, it was like a little team camp. I started dominating every game, I could tell that I was getting really good. That's when I started taking everything more serious."
Tamika Fletcher said other team parents told her years before that her son was special, but she didn't see it with her own two eyes until his freshman year of high school.
"People used to always tell me, "You've got a special kid. He's the one that's gonna make it."
I would tell them, "Oh, okay," but to be honest, I didn't see it at first," Fletcher said. "But I want to say once he got into high school and started developing more, I started to see what everyone was talking about. I wasn't that big on basketball to start with. Even though my older son played, I didn't know that much about it, but I started to get into it once Cam really got up there and started playing. His freshman year is when I started to notice. I said, "Okay, maybe they're on to something."'
Not long after Fletcher's standout summer, his focus on basketball was displayed in the form of his rigorous updated training schedule.
To close out his high school career, the four-star forward dedicated his mornings, afternoons, and evenings to the sport he had quickly grown to love.
"I wake up in the morning, go work out before school at like 6 a.m.," Fletcher said. "I go to school, go to class. On some days, I have a gym class, so I'm able to get some extra shots up on 'The Gun.' Then I go to practice at 3:30 p.m. After practice is up at 7 p.m., I get more shots up."
Finding his "why"
During the recruiting process, Kentucky head coach John Calipari asks potential targets what their "why" is in life and as a basketball player. Why
do they play the game? Why
do they put in the time to train? Why
do they want to compete at the highest level and fight for a spot in the NBA?
Is there a person they play for? Is it simply internal motivation and self fulfillment?
For Fletcher, that answer was simple, responding immediately without second thought.
"My "why," I'd say, is my mom,"
he said. "Because I want her to be able to stop working, she does so much for me. I just want to be able to tell her one day that she doesn't have to work anymore. I don't want her to worry about anything else."
When informed of her son's answer, Tamika Fletcher was taken aback, struggling to come up with words to express appreciation for her son.
"Man, that means... That means a lot," the Kentucky signee's mother said. "I always told Cam when he was making his decision about where he was going to school, I was telling him, "Don't do it for me. This is about you.
It doesn't matter if you're ten hours away or four hours away, it's your decision." I try to tell him, "Whatever you're doing in life, make sure you're doing it for you, because at the end of the day, you have to live it." Just to hear him say that, I'm just... Wow."
Unsurprisingly, Fletcher said he has a "really strong bond" with his mother and that he "loves her to death," a close-knit relationship that began right from the start.
As his mother puts it, Cam'Ron stayed by her side well before sports came calling, and he continues to do so as a high-profile star in St. Louis.
"I think we have a really good relationship," Fletcher's mother said. "When Cam'Ron was smaller, before he started playing any type of sports, he was always the kid that was with me. Everybody else like my older son and my daughter, they were always gone. And my youngest son, he was usually somewhere else, too. But whenever you see me, you see Cam. I think that's where we grew that close bond, and we got even closer when he started playing, getting into sports, and just us hanging out. We have a really, really good bond."
Fletcher's love and appreciation for his mother nearly kept him close to home when it came time to choosing a college, but she continued to push him to make the best decision for himself.
"It was really important because my mom wanted me to make the best decisions for me. I didn't want to go anywhere and think back that I picked the wrong school. She helped me out a lot with that," Fletcher said. "I started thinking about not going far away for school and being away from her, but [she helped me realize that] I couldn't think like that because it's not about her right now. It's about what's next after that, getting to the league and winning a national championship."
"She told me to not listen to others and be who you are," Fletcher added, saying it was the best advice he had ever received from his mother growing up.
Playing at Kentucky is a "dream come true"
As his decision crept closer last summer, it became clear that Kentucky was the answer to his basketball questions.
After taking an unofficial visit to Lexington in June, Fletcher left campus with a scholarship offer from Calipari and the UK coaching staff in his pocket. He cut his list down to five in mid-July, and followed it up with an official visit back to Kentucky on August 1.
By the time he left campus, Fletcher was a Wildcat, committing to Kentucky on August 4.
"I'm very excited, it's a dream come true. I can't wait,"
the four-star forward said of his decision and general excitement to get to Lexington. "I feel like it's going to be good for me because Coach Cal and Coach Payne were very honest with me about what I have to do when I come here. That's what I wanted, an honest coach, not someone to tell me they were just going to bring me in to be a one and done. I want to know the honest truth, tell me how it is.
During his visit, Fletcher said the players on Kentucky's 2019-20 roster were treating him like he was already a member of the team.
"Hanging with the team, they treated me like I was already there," Fletcher said. "They treated me like I was family. That just made me feel even better, them not really knowing me, but still treating me like I was already on the team."
Even one former Wildcat - Tyler Herro - reached out to let him know that he would be welcome in Lexington.
"I talked to Tyler Herro," he said. "He told me to come in, play hard, and not worry about anybody else but you. He said my [success] would come if I played hard on defense because Coach Cal loves defense. 'Just play very good defense and your time will come.'"
One thing that stood out to the 6-foot-6 forward in particular was Kentucky's focus on academics and life outside of basketball, something Fletcher felt stressed just how much the coaches care about their players as people.
"When we first started our trip, the coaches made sure it was all about academics," Fletcher said. "We didn't just jump into basketball, so I could tell that they really cared about me. They wanted to know about how my grades are, how things would be in the class room and outside of basketball. That's when we got to the basketball part of the visit where they were honest with me about what I would have to do coming in. They told me it wasn't going to be easy, there's no favoritism."
Fletcher's mother knew right away that she'd be comfortable trusting the Kentucky coaches with her son.
"When I sat down and talked to the coaches, just being in the atmosphere and speaking with Coach Cal and [Kenny Payne], the other staff, they made me feel comfortable," she said. " I told them, "I need to know y'all got my baby when he comes here." That was my biggest thing, I needed to feel comfortable because I was handing them my son. Knowing what Cam wants to do, I just said, "Okay, well, this is it. This isn't my decision, it's your decision." When we sat down and talked, he knew that Coach Cal could get him where he needs to be. I'm behind him."
"I can't wait. I'm extremely excited, and I tell him all the time, "I can't wait to see you at the next level,"' Fletcher's mother continued. "I know he's going to playing under some amazing coaches who will take him where he wants to go. I'm excited, really excited for him."
Fletcher added that he has a "tight relationship" with the rest of the Kentucky basketball signees and "fits in very well with them," talking in a group chat with them "every other day." Regarding individual players, the four-star forward pointed out guard signees BJ Boston and Terrence Clarke as the two players he's closest with on the team.
As for what Fletcher plans to bring to the table at Kentucky personally, the versatile wing says he takes pride in rebounding and his motor.
"I play very hard, big rebounding machine. I can hit the open three, I've got a nice one-dribble pull-up. I've just got a high motor," he said. "My biggest strengths are rebounding and just playing hard. My weaknesses are my left hand and moves getting to the basket. ... I'd say I model my game after Paul George. The way he shoots and how he plays. His game is just smooth."
"With his athleticism, you know, he can play different position, do different things," Tamika Fletcher added. "He can block shots, guard, he's just an all-around good player. They have a good player coming in, just watch for him. He's awesome."
Championship goals in Lexington and the growing chip on his shoulder
Though he's rated as high as No. 46 in the national rankings by Rivals, Fletcher saw a recent drop elsewhere, falling to No. 59 in the final ESPN player rankings and No. 76 over at 247Sports. This comes after the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, Nike Hoop Summit, and Iverson Roundball Classic all decided to pass him over in favor of other highly touted recruits.
His state accolades - Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 4 Player of the Year and MBCAC Class 5 All-State Team - were impressive, but Fletcher feels slighted by the national pundits who were (and continue to be) down on his game, despite averaging 20.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game as a senior to lead Vashon to the MSHSAA Class 4 state semifinals.
"I'm mad about it, but there's nothing I can do about it now," he said. "I can't control who they pick for what. I can't stay mad about it for long, I just have to keep working. ... I think about [other underrated players who missed on national accolades in high school] sometimes. I look up NBA players who weren't McDonald's All-Americans. It's only going to make me work harder."
After giving Fletcher what he felt was his most valuable piece of advice growing up - "don't listen to others and be who you are" - his mother had just a few more words of guidance and encouragement for her son as he prepares to take the next step in his basketball journey.
"Work hard. Go in there, and you work hard. Stay focused, and remember your main goals."
Fletcher plans to use both pieces of advice as he carries that growing chip on his shoulder to Lexington, pledging to come in and help Kentucky win a national championship, no matter how long it takes.
"My goal coming in isn't just to be a one and done. If it happens, it happens, I'll be happy," Fletcher said. "But coming in, I just want to play, win a national championship, and have fun. If it takes two years, three years, I'll be happy."