“Radar Contact” – Cherokee’s Cam Pope

By: Keith Agran

CANTON, GA – They say “EDMED” a lot up around the gym at Cherokee HS.

No, it’s not the school’s trainer saying it most often about his or her former mentor named ‘Ed’, or a local dentist named ‘Ed’ who does a really nice job on the basketball player’s teeth.

It’s “Every Day Means Every Day”, the motto that drives this current iteration of Cherokee basketball under 1st-year HC Joe Viehman. It’s grounded in not looking too far ahead, even for a team that might be prone to do that with the kind of huge offensive numbers they’ve been posting, and a group that surely cannot be ignored as capable of damage in the upcoming 7A bracket.

One of those keeping the team grounded and among the engines for that slogan has been junior guard Cam Pope, a mixture of throwback and modern baller that has risen to the forefront of GA basketball circles.

I talked with this Cherokee-County-born and bred athlete recently in a very open and honest discussion about how he approaches the game and the work he’s put in to get him to a spot where he’s forcing his way up rankings boards all over the state.

On choosing hoops over football right before high school, despite playing and excelling as a QB in football-mad GA, but giving that up to put his focus on basketball:

“I used to play quarterback when I was younger. But I always liked basketball more, so I just figured if I could get better I’d just focus on one sport leading into high school. I felt a lot of support from everyone, no one really hated on my decision, everyone was glad I got to choose what I wanted to do.”

And after choosing to focus on basketball, he went to work.

“I just made sure I was always putting the work in, people like Spencer (Dixon, he of FUH3 Athletix and Wood Elite AAU) helped lead me to my path, that I always had somewhere to shoot if there was bad weather, something to keep me on the right path getting better every single day. Going into high school since I was smaller than everyone, I was younger, I made sure I could knock down shots, consistency from 3. Confidence everywhere throughout the court, so I wasn’t scared or timid when someone passed me the ball.”

That confidence level seeps from Pope at this stage of his life on the floor, and even though it’s taken some time to develop the influences in his life have been the driving forces:

“Part of that is Coach Viehman and Spencer, they told me they have confidence in me, which helps a lot, it’s lead me to take the kind of shots I’m taking now. (As a team) we can just push it and play fast, he kind of lets us play on our own and just play basketball, not run sets all the time, so it’s been good for us.”

On the interesting connection between when Covid-19 emerged in our lives back in the spring of 2020 and how that kick-started his relationship with Dixon:

“That’s how I actually got into talking to Spencer. I saw him on Instagram, I messaged him asking if he would want to work out with me. I worked out once, then played with his team once one weekend, and we’ve been working out ever since. It was one of the only ways to get access (to facilities), which I’m very thankful for.

More on the influence of Dixon in particular:

“He’s very supportive, he mainly just wants the best for all of us. Constantly gets on us if we’re not playing the way we should be, he’s just a great role model for all us guys. He does push us really hard, making sure we’re always in the gym, doing whatever it takes to get to that point we all want to get to which is getting to the next level and playing in college.”

On his own style of play, which again has hints of old school as he sees space so well,  can thrive equally at any of the 3 levels, often using his former time as a QB to “read” defenses:

“I’ve kind of always played that way. When I was younger I always used to say I like driving in more than shooting 3’s, I loved the Euro-step. Going back to 2 years ago, it was kind of all about reading the defense, like a quarterback has to do. If you see a bigger dude, instead of trying to get all the way to the rim kind of recognizing the defense and what kind of shot you need to take to get the score.”

On his time so far this season with Coach Viehman and the new regime, and how that has gone beyond just offensive basketball:

“He’s shown me that I can guard all these people, (Milton guards) Kanaan Carlyle and Bruce Thornton and all of them, every single night we have a tough matchup. He’s really helped me know I can stay in front of these guys, make it tough for them to get open shots. He’s instilled that confidence in me, given me some pointers to make sure I’m always on the top of my feet and not where my feet are banging against the floor.”

More on his time with Wood Elite 16U last summer (org helmed by Quinton Wood and coached by Dixon) playing with a lot of his Cherokee teammates, and how that transition was so seamless leading to November:

“I honestly don’t think it’s been that much different. It’s definitely good that all of the people that are on our Cherokee team now I’m also playing with at Wood Elite. We built that chemistry over the summer, and that translated to this season for Cherokee. There hasn’t really been that many differences, we both play fast, there’s a lot of freedom in both.”

Cherokee and Wood Elite 16U teammate Tayden Owens has also had a tremendous season so far, and the two make for an exciting combination of  “combo” guards:

“I love playing with Tayden, he definitely makes me a lot better. It’s easier for me on the court, I don’t always have to bring up the ball, he doesn’t always have to bring up the ball, so one of us can get a break from the ballhandling. He can get me open shots because he attracts a lot of defenders, and that allows me to score, and then vice versa from me to him. And we’re really good friends too, we hang out a lot outside of the court, the same for most of the guys on our team, that’s another good thing. I really enjoy playing with Tayden and I think that translates out onto the court.”

With the kind of summer he and his Wood teammates had in 2021, his recruiting saw a bump, and surely his exciting play for the Warriors (14-6 record at posting) hasn’t diminished that any. This summer will obviously be huge as his last time to impress coaches before his senior season, and the 6-2 bomber does feel he can compete at the D1 level.

He talked with Belmont over the summer, and Liberty has contacted Dixon about Pope’s play from over the summer as well.

As for his interests outside of basketball, watching plenty of hoop and still plenty of football as well remain among his passions. It was pleasing to this writer to hear he was interested possibly in sports journalism, but not all that surprising as QB-types and elite athletes are cerebral thinkers and usually sports-junkies.

So, if basketball doesn’t become his life’s work, sitting in front of the keyboard like this grey bird can always be a solid next choice for sports lovers.

Keith Agran has lived in Georgia since 2011 and joined OTR as a National Evaluator in 2021. He previously scouted for Prep Hoops dating back to 2019 and has both a championship-coaching background on the HS-level and daily newspaper writing experience, both from New Jersey. You can reach him at keithagran1@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @BracketSage.