Valley of dreams: Phoenix Suns rookie Toumani Camara in awe of NBA arrival

Phoenix Suns forward Toumani Camara was introduced Tuesday at the Verizon 5G Performance Center. Camara was drafted by the Suns as the 52nd overall pick last Thursday in the 2023 NBA Draft. (Photo by Joey Plishka/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – An NBA dream born in Brussels, Belgium was chased by a 16-year-old kid who moved to Florida and now will be achieved while sharing the court with Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker.

For 23-year-old Toumani Camara, the Phoenix Suns’ lone pick in last Thursday’s draft, it has all come to fruition.

“Going down the steps, shaking (Adam Silver’s) hand and (putting) the hat on (was) something that I have been dreaming about since the age of seven,” Camara said. “Being able to accomplish that, especially in front of my mom, my brother, that meant the world to me.”

Briefly playing alongside current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards while attending the University of Georgia for two years, Camara maintained an average of 9.3 points, 1.1 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. After completing his sophomore year, he transferred to the University of Dayton and averaged 12.4 points, 1.7 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game.

From a small private Division I school in Dayton, Ohio, to playing alongside NBA veterans like Durant, Booker and Beal is not only a dream for Camara but an opportunity to grow his game.

“I think it still hasn’t hit me yet. Being able to play alongside great talent, I feel like it can help me so much with my game being able to compete against them every day,” Camara said. “Being able to be in the gym and be able to analyze those guys and be able to really like pick their games and everything … It’s exciting.”

After being selected in the second round No. 52 overall, Camara’s defensive game could not align any better with Suns coach Frank Vogel’s defensive mindset. A skill the rookie forward worked to develop over years, his defensive prowess will allow him to compete for a role in the rotation.

“I think (Vogel’s defensive mindset is) why I can excel, being able to be myself like I said, and stay true to my position, stay true to my skill set,” Camara said. “(I’ll) do whatever it takes for my team to win. Whatever my coach needs me to do. I’m a role player at the end of the day.”

Phoenix Suns forward Toumani Camara, who will wear No. 20, said the opportunity to play in the NBA was "something I have been dreaming about since the age of seven." (Photo by Joey Plishka/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Suns forward Toumani Camara, who will wear No. 20, said the opportunity to play in the NBA was “something I have been dreaming about since the age of seven.” (Photo by Joey Plishka/Cronkite News)

Vogel’s three-time top-three defensive-rated teams is a big reason why Camara isn’t worried about trying to fit into the coach’s style of play. As a skillful contributor on the defensive end, he also thinks his offense is somewhat underrated. But he’s not just focused on proving his own skills – he also wants to win.

“(Winning) is part of the game of basketball and it means a lot to me,” Camara said. “Whatever my coach needs me to do, whatever I need to do to contribute to winning … I’m just willing to put myself out there and do whatever I have to do.”

Camara’s ability to move around in a press-style defense and guard bigs along with guards is what makes him so versatile and dependable. The NBA thrives off defensive switches that produce mismatches on the offensive end. At Dayton, he excelled at the top of the press while defending guards at 6-feet-8.

In some ways, a defensive press can be likened to solving a complex jigsaw puzzle by requiring strategic coordination, precise timing and adaptable maneuvers. Perhaps his defensive mindset is what contributes to his downtime also being full of strategic planning.

“I’m a big puzzle guy,” Camara said. “I feel like it calms me down … focusing on each piece and everything. Takes my mind off everything on the side.”

It’s a good thing that Camara has developed indoor hobbies such as working on 1,000 to 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzles considering his new home in the Valley. On top of puzzles, he comes from an artistic family that he credits for his hobbies of drawing and dancing.

Overall, Camara expressed his excitement about his new home and the hot weather that comes with it after previously not spending extended time on the West Coast.

“I love it. I came here two weeks ago for my workout,” said Camara, who’s NBA summer league status is uncertain with certain “formalities” to overcome. “I called my people right away, and I just had a feeling about the city that I really liked. I’m excited to learn more about the Valley.”

Taylyn Hadley tay-linn had-lee (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Taylyn Hadley expects to graduate after the summer term with a master’s degree in sports journalism. During her time in undergrad at Portland State University, she double majored in criminal justice and psychology.

Joseph Plishka joh-sif pl-ih-sh-ka
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joey Plishka expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in December of 2023. Plishka is a multimedia journalist who has interned in communications at New City Church, as a photo director for WCSN and as a photo editor for the Arizona Coyotes.