Lewis: A father-son reunion for the Ayers family ... at least for now

Advocate staff photo by SUSAN BROADBRIDGE -- Cameron Ayers, a member of the Pelicans summer league team, practices at the team facility in Metairie on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.
Advocate staff photo by SUSAN BROADBRIDGE -- Cameron Ayers, a member of the Pelicans summer league team, practices at the team facility in Metairie on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.

Randy Ayers probably has watched his son, Cameron, play more basketball in the past two days than he did all of last season.

Being the lead assistant coach of the Pelicans made the logistics of getting to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania — where Cameron, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, earned Patriot League Player of the Year honors as a senior at Bucknell — somewhat difficult.

They even had to adjust the Bison’s Senior Day to mid-February during the All-Star break so Randy and Carol Ayers could attend. Randy made just four other games, all in November and December.

But here, at the Pelicans summer minicamp, there’s plenty of opportunity for the elder Ayers to observe and evaluate Cameron, now a rookie undrafted free agent, going though drills and scrimmages in preparation for the Las Vegas Summer League, which begins Friday.

In fact, it’s part of Randy’s responsibilities.

“He was a little nervous the first night, but he’s settled down now and is getting better,” Randy said after Wednesday morning’s session at the team’s practice facility in Metairie. “The speed of the game is different at this level and will be even higher when the veterans come back in. But he has the ability to shoot and score and make his own shots. Once he learns how to create his own space, he can easily expand his game.”

According to assistant coach Bryan Gates, who is in charge of the summer league team, by Ayers’ standards, that’s extremely high praise.

“If Randy says something nice about you, you’ve earned it,” Gates said.

Cameron has been holding his own among the mixed bag of rookies, foreign and D-League players, second-year men and outlier Josh Howard, who is trying to revive his career after 10 years in the NBA.

It’s learning to adjust to the full-grown opponents one encounters, even on the fringes of pro basketball, plus the differences on the floor and in the rules, such as the more distant 3-point line.

“Everyone’s a lot quicker and stronger,” Cameron said. “You’ve just got to adjust on the fly. I’m learning new things every day.”

Still, the younger Ayers is considered a long shot to make the Pelicans, just as he was to be drafted. Denver was the only other team to express interest in signing him as a free agent, although that’s largely because everyone knew he would wind up with his father.

“We didn’t have to recruit him every hard,” Randy said.

A more likely destination for Cameron, at least this season, is somewhere in Europe. Older brother Ryan, a former captain at Notre Dame, just finished a stint in a league in Finland.

“My goal is to make this team,” Cameron said. “But my brother has had a good experiences in Europe, and that might be the best thing for me. We’ll figure that out later.”

No matter where he winds up, it helps that Cameron has been a basketball scholar since Day One. That came in September 1991, just a few months after Randy earned national Coach of the Year honors at Ohio State.

In 1997, Randy became an assistant coach with Philadelphia, and the family has remained rooted there since, despite Randy putting in coaching stints at Washington, Orlando, back in Philadelphia and, since 2010, New Orleans.

In fact, Carol Ayers has remained a Spanish teacher at Germantown Academy in suburban Fort Washington, where Cameron was a two-time all-state pick.

“My wife and I have always first and foremost thought of ourselves as teachers,” Randy said. “My grandmother taught for more than 40 years. We’ve always stressed that academics come first. So with basketball, we’ve always stressed respect for the game and playing the right way.”

That’s why Cameron and Ryan were four-year players in college. And it’s also why, along with being a three-time all-conference player at Bucknell and earning top honors as a senior, Cameron earned his degree in economics.

“Once you get through the first two years with all of the macro and micro stuff, it’s not too difficult,” he said.

So if basketball doesn’t work out, he’ll have something to fall back on.

“Four years was always part of the plan,” Randy said. “They both grew up loving basketball, but we were never a one-and-done family.”

But for now, it’s basketball and, on the court, he’s Coach Ayers instead of Dad.

“He did buy me a couple of snacks in the hotel the first night,” Cameron said. “But that’s about it. Maybe I can get a meal out of him sometime.”

Sure seems like he’s earned it.