The poor decisions were his fault. He sees it now. The bad grades, missed practices and selfish attitude cost him precious time on the basketball court. Not just as a junior, but as a freshman and sophomore, as well.
But his senior season was approaching. He wanted to be a part of the team. He was ready to change, so he reached out to the one person who could give everything back.
This summer, Cameron Burney called Steamboat Springs boys basketball coach Kelly Meek and asked to be a Sailor player again.
"Cameron said, 'I owe you, and I owe the team," Meek said. "I said, 'You don't owe me. You owe yourself to do this correct for the future of your life."
That's the thing about Meek's program. If a player has talent but no off-court discipline, he won't get in the games. If a player wants to score but won't defend, he will sit on the bench.
Meek has stripped playing time from others through his 31 years as a coach. None had as much potential as the 6-foot-5 Burney, arguably one of Steamboat's greatest players.
"The word potential in this program is a cuss word," Meek said. "That means you aren't getting it done. ... I've had a million people ask, 'Why is he doing that to him?' It wasn't me doing this to him. He was doing it to himself. We cannot make an exception just because of talent. It sends the wrong message to he and everyone else."
Through conversations, suspensions and the ultimate removal from last year's team, Burney got the message.
Last season, focusing on anything, especially basketball, was difficult. Burney dealt with several off-court issues, including his removal from the squad for violating team rules. Most notable, however, was his being the target in a series of incidents involving racial graffiti at school.
"There are a lot of people that have been dealt a lot of rough cards," Meek said. "Instead of using it as an excuse, you say I'm going to do the best no matter what. That's what I tell him."
Burney never thought about transferring. He watched Steamboat basketball games through a window in the gym's balcony.
"I wanted to come back, but I didn't know if Coach wanted me to," Burney said. "I had to change my life. It's for the better. He doesn't expect anything different from me than the other guys. With me, he really wanted to see me change. I was the worst student-athlete to come into the program."
This year, most notably in the past month, Burney has responded to Meek's wishes to become a better student and more disciplined young man. Burney said he's gone to teachers for help, something he never would have done. He's showing up for school on time and showing up to practice ready to work.
"We've always tried to be honest with Cameron," Meek said. "Our relationship has been one where I'm treating him no different than my own child. I know at times he's been frustrated with me, but he knows in my heart I hold the best for him."
This year, Burney is averaging 17 points a game for the 21-2 Sailors, and his peers have noticed a positive transformation, as well. Junior Scott Peterson said the team, after a successful summer camp season, was worried about chemistry and its winter season if Burney returned.
His concerns have disappeared with every blocked shot, assist and rebound. Burney has taken over inside and picked the right moments to shine from the perimeter.
"This year, Cam knows his role a lot better and is more a part of the team environment," said senior Dustin Moran, also one of Burney's good friends.
The change in attitude has Burney thinking about a life after high school he never thought was possible. He's talking about college and college basketball. Where he'll go is still uncertain, but he has options.
"It's been a slow change," he said. "I didn't know if I wanted to take people's advice. I didn't know if I had a future after (high school) basketball."
Neither did Meek. He wasn't sure Burney would change his life. Now, Meek sees promise where he once saw potential.
"He has just gotten better and better as the season has gone along -- his overall behavior and fitting in with the team and becoming a good teammate," Meek said. "It bodes for a real nice future after he leaves. The most important thing is the day I get a graduation announcement from him in the mail. That will say everything."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org