Malibu High Sharks boys basketball coach Richard Harris tossed his initial idea of how to coach senior wing player Cameron Nwede out of the gym around the beginning of the Sharks’ 2021-2022 campaign
Nwede was simply scoring the ball in dominating fashion, the coach said.
“He was grown-man strong compared to other guys,” Harris recalled. “I just told him to go ahead and play basketball; you just get points.”
Gone was the hoops player that showed flashes of potential his first two years at Malibu. Nwede was now a 6-foot-2 player who could drive through and past players from the perimeter to the paint anytime he wanted after a spending his junior year away from Malibu.
“He is someone that can just go downhill and score when he wants,” Harris said. “If he gets in any one-on-one situation, he has the advantage.”
Nwede’s strong forays to the hoop, rebounding, and deft shooting were hallmarks of Malibu’s 17-7 season that included two semifinal runs in California Interscholastic Federation postseason tournaments. In Malibu’s seven games in the CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships – 5AA in February and the CIF State Boys Basketball Championships – Division V in March, Nwede had multiple games in which he scored over 30 points and hauled in a bevy of rebounds. He was the Malibu’s top bucket-getter in all the tournament games, aside from the first, a blowout victory over Santa Clarita Valley International. In that 91-18 victory, Malibu’s top players were retired to the bench early in the contest because the Sharks had such a big lead.
Nwede played beyond his own expectations this season.
“I pushed past my limits,” he said. “There wasn’t any particular point in the season where I said, ‘Wow. I’m doing well.’ I expect greatness from myself.”
Last month, the 18-year-old and his teammate Dean Furlong were two of the nine players named to the Citrus Coast League’s first team. Furlong was also named to the All-CIF Division 5AA team at the close of Malibu’s semifinal runs in the CIF tournaments. Nwede, to the shock of many was not.
Harris was befuddled.
“It was such a mistake,” he said. “Cam was the most dominant player in the playoffs. It was a slap in the face. He was supposed to be chosen.”
In an email last month, CIF Southern Section Assistant Commissioner Thom Simmons said the All-CIF teams in all sports are selected through nominations of and the vote by coaches in each division for each sport.
“In the particular sport of basketball, all meetings to nominate, discuss and vote on players is coordinated by the Southern California Basketball Coaches Association (SCIBCA),” Simmons wrote. “The CIF-SS Office plays no role in this process other than to release the teams as selected by our member school coaches.”
Two players from Bosco Tech, who Malibu downed in the quarterfinals of the 5AA championships; two players from 5AA Champions Villanova Prep, who defeated the Sharks in the 5AA semifinals (the player of the year winner was also a Villanova Prep player); two players from Northview; one player from Estancia; and two players from Chaffey, who beat Malibu regional semifinals in the Division V championships, were on the All-CIF team.
Nwede credited his stellar senior season to the time he spent honing his basketball skills while living in Pittsburgh from December 2020 to June 2021. He and his mother, Kimmarie Johnson, moved to the western Pennsylvania city, Johnson’s hometown.
There, Nwede had the opportunity to meet people his mother grew up with, and hooped. A lot. The player and his mom said he would ride the train to various gyms and walk to others. Nwede didn’t enjoy those walks to practice on cold days.
“It tested my motivation,” he said. “It was always freezing. It pushed me to get better. I wanted to make my time in the gym count since I spent so much time in the cold to get there.”
Nwede said his mother motivated him as he lifted weights, ran on the treadmill, and worked on his ball handling.
“My mom is my biggest supporter and number one fan,” he said.
Johnson said Nwede worked hard and showed his tenacity. Nwede spent a lot of time refining his moves on the court.
“A lot of my motions became smoother and more direct,” Nwede said. “I wanted to make sure my moves weren’t wasted.”
Harris coached Malibu for a little more than four years before stepping away before the tipoff of the 2018-19 season, Nwede’s ninth-grade year, to take a community relations position with Los Angeles Lakers. He returned to the coaching post in the 2020 spring. Harris attended some Malibu games during his two seasons away, so saw Nwede play. He said Nwede had promise.
“He would score sometimes, but it kind of didn’t all come together,” Harris said of the younger Nwede. “This season was a maximized version of himself. He optimized a lot of skills this season. He turned out a lot better than I thought he would be. He must have worked really hard; put in a lot of effort.”
Nwede, who has played basketball since the sixth grade, said he was able to score the ball as an underclassman, but made a giant leap his senior season.
“I was able to be more effective,” he said. “I built a lot more confidence just because of how many reps I did of everything. My confidence was boosted. That boosted my skills.”
Nwede’s play really shined in an early-season tournament at de Toledo High School in West Hills, Harris said.
“We played some upper level teams, and they weren’t able to stop him,” the coach said. “He was strong and aggressive. That’s when I knew we had something.”
Nwede said an increase in his athletic ability impressed his teammates.
“Before, I was barely dunking,” he said. “This year, I had a few highlights when it came to dunking.”
Nwede splashed multiple three-pointers in the first half of Malibu’s 64-52 win over Edgewood in the second round of the Division V championships.
Without Nwede’s hot shooting, Harris said, Malibu would have been defeated.
“Edgewood was more skilled than us at certain positions, more athletic,” he said. “However, Cam hit those threes. They couldn’t overcome that lead. We wouldn’t have won without him.”
Nwede’s two most dominate playoff games were a win over Bosco Tech — 30 points or more and 24 rebounds — in the Division 5AA playoffs and the season-ending loss to Chaffey — around 40 points and 15 rebounds — in the Division V semifinals.
Nwede, who expects to play college basketball next season, wishes Malibu had one more victory under their belts.
“It’s cool to score points, but at the end of the day I want to win,” he said. “I’m a sore loser.”