GLENVIEW, Ill. — The frustration Cameron Christie felt after a tough loss for Rolling Meadows (Ill.) last Saturday turned to excitement when he spotted Gophers coach Ben Johnson waiting to greet him outside the locker room.
Christie's future college coach stayed behind after the U's loss at Northwestern, driving from nearby Evanston to watch one of his top recruits and a prime candidate for Illinois' Mr. Basketball.
Christie, a 6-foot-6 four-star senior, wishes he could join the U's backcourt right now. Johnson's 2023 recruiting class with Christie and five-star California center Dennis Evans III cannot arrive soon enough for the Gophers (7-14, 1-10 Big Ten), who take a six-game losing streak into Saturday's game against Maryland at Williams Arena.
"I definitely hope to help bring the ball up over there and relieve pressure," Christie said about handling some point guard duties. "I also can play the wing spot and just be versatile. I'm going to do whatever it takes to help win."
Christie, who averages 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists this year, is the highest-ranked guard recruit for the Gophers since former four-star prospects Amir Coffey and Isaiah Washington signed at the U in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The Arlington Heights, Ill., native can bring a winning mentality into the Gophers program. Rolling Meadows is 22-4 and among the top 10 teams in Illinois Class 4A as of Friday.
“I'm looking forward to getting there. I just have to keep working. Keep my confidence up and keep building on the little things.”
Watching Christie last weekend, Johnson was reminded of all the things that make him a special: quick movement without the ball to get open, a smooth jumper off the catch and off the dribble. Despite being slender, Christie finishes strong above the rim and at the basket.
"It's always exciting when you see a kid who has so much room to grow and develop, but he has that high ceiling of talent," Johnson said. "Like all young kids, he's got to get used to the physicality of the game. He's got to get stronger, but if you don't have that talent base and that athleticism it can be tough."
Brother reaches NBA
If Big Ten fans recognize his name, that's because Christie's older brother, Max, was an all-league freshman team performer at Michigan State. He has started a few games as a rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers this season after being drafted 35th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Max is still just 19, but he is two years older than his younger brother. And he has already traveled the path that the younger Christie hopes to follow to become an impact Big Ten freshman.
"Confidence is the No. 1 thing," Christie said about his big brother's advice. "You have to believe in your preparation. Obviously, high school to college is a big jump. You have to believe you're good enough to compete with those players."
The Christie brothers' belief in themselves and their love for the game came from their parents, Katrina and Max Sr., who played college basketball at Northwestern and Wisconsin Superior respectively.
"We would be in the gym all the time," Christie said. "My mom and dad would always find us gyms. They would get us workouts and trainers. We were doing something basketball-related every day when we were young."
Rolling Meadows had two talented siblings as their starting backcourt for two years. Christie called that experience "a ton of fun" since he and Max had never played together on the same team until his freshman year in 2019-20. The following year they both contributed to the team winning a conference championship.
"What a great thing for the family for them to play together," Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich said. "It was kind of one of those cool moments when you felt like it was the passing of the guard onto Cameron. From that moment on, it's been his show with great teammates around him."
The summer before Max Christie's senior year, he committed to play for Michigan State. Hall of Fame Spartans coach Tom Izzo also offered soon-to-be sophomore Cam Christie a scholarship, seeing similarities in their game.
At the time, the younger Christie was 6-3 and barely 160 pounds. He's grown three inches and added 25 pounds since then. He knows adding weight and developing his toughness and strength will be a major factor in making a smooth transition into college basketball.
"It's one of the most physical conferences in the country," Christie said of the Big Ten. "You have to have your body be able to withstand the contact and physicality. That's definitely the most important factor as a freshman."
Last Saturday, Christie scored 21 points, but Rolling Meadows suffered a humbling 19-point loss to Moline, led by Iowa recruits Owen Freeman and Brock Harding. They will meet again in the Minnesota-Iowa border battle rivalry next year.
Much like Johnson tried to move on from the Northwestern loss that day, Christie shook off his difficult game as they chatted last Saturday. They both could see a brighter future, one that includes Christie being a vital piece to a possible major turnaround with the Gophers next season.
"He's laid out a good foundation for me and a good plan," Christie said. "I'm looking forward to getting there. I just have to keep working. Keep my confidence up and keep building on the little things, so I can be ready to get out there and help the team."