From Surrey to Kingston, The Journey of Englishman Cameron Bett Through Canadian Hoops
Most people outside of the UK wouldn’t understand the historical significance of a place like Surrey, England. The former home of King Henry VIII, it is a sprawling county home to more than a million people.
It is also home to a budding basketball community that, much like a lot of Canadian cities, is still looking for respect in a nation obsessed with more “traditional” sports, that identify with a more recognizable national identity.
It is from that community that we get Cameron Bett, a 6’3 shooting guard for the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA, that is no stranger to being a fish out of water.
Like most English boys, he had spent the early years of his childhood playing more English sports like soccer, before his father, a former professional player in the British Basketball League, brought him to a few camps around the age of 14.
“I remember falling in love with it forever after that,” reminisced Bett.
As the next couple years progressed, so did Bett, and with that, came the yearning for greater competition.
This led him to begin heading outside of England to gain more exposure at some of the more prolific camps across Europe. It was during one of the showcases, a scout for McCallie School, a boarding school in Tennessee, on a trip to Europe looking for soccer and basketball players for the school, approached his father.
Just like that, at the age of 16 the following year, Bett was off to the other side of the world, America, to play prep basketball.
“It was good basketball, they had some players in that league. We also managed to play Oak Hill Academy, Brentwood, Hamilton Heights, there were some good games, but above all else it was a great learning experience. I went from playing 40 minutes a game in England, to just trying to survive and fight for minutes in the American prep circuit.”
But unknown to Cam, his life was about to take yet another left turn. This would be the one that set him on a collision course with Canadian basketball, and where he truly began to flourish as one of the top guards in the country for his age.
“It just so happened that later that year, my mother was offered the job to be the headmaster (principal) at Ridley College, and I remember telling my mother to take the job because it sounded like a great opportunity.”
It also just so happened that while his mother was accepting a new job at this prestigious private school in St. Catherines, Ontario, Ridley College was also looking to make a mark in more than just hockey and academics.
“About two months later I get a phone call from my dad, and he’s telling me that they are looking to put together a basketball program for the OSBA. I remember watching some of those games the previous year with guys like Thon Maker, and I’m thinking ‘there is no way that the school my mum is working at is going into THAT league!’ it was crazy!”
Shortly after Bett would get another phone call, this time from Tarry Upshaw, the head coach at Ridley. Upshaw would convince Bett that if he wanted to get the most from his high school years in the game of basketball, that Ridley could provide that distraction-free environment that he wasn’t necessarily being given in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“There was plenty to do where I lived in Tennessee, it was a great community, but I found myself focusing less on basketball as a result of that, and I knew I needed a change for myself. It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, I was leaving friends and a very familiar comfort zone, but after my father got offered an assistant coaching position at Ridley, it became a no-brainer for me.”
So with his family reunited for the first time in over a year, the Betts all made the move to Canada together to start a new life. For Cameron, it was a fresh opportunity to solidify himself as a veteran voice on the youngest roster in the OSBA at the time.
The opportunity to spend his final two seasons at Ridley, with both of his parents, was not lost on Cameron. He knew how lucky he was as an international student to still be able to go home every night to his mom and dad.
“It had an immense impact on my progression and attitude towards the game. Being away from my family for that year was difficult, and it made me appreciate them that much more when I was with them at Ridley. It also allowed me to better sympathize and identify with some of the younger guys on our roster who were on their own for the first time.”
It was that leadership that became a true defining quality for Bett, who thrived in a sixth man role for most of his career with the Tigers, backing up 2019 standout Noah Wharton.
Bett could often be seen stepping into games and running the offence as if he had been on the floor the whole time. He also had a knack for clutch moments, managing to hit a deep, game winning dagger over Father Henry Carr during his first season with the team (the video above is not that moment, but yet another game winner Bett had in the preseason that year). Bett also wasn’t the type to be intimidated, going nose-to-nose in a heated staredown with current NBA prospect Addison Patterson, back when he was still with Orangeville Prep. After the game, Bett could be heard telling his teammates to “never let these guys get to you, we’re all on the same floor for a reason,”.
Few players, let alone one from England that just transferred for his final two seasons, and rarely started, can say they left the same kind of mark as Bett had in Ridley.
Bett could always be seen bringing the team together on the floor during timeouts. He would never let his guys get too high or low, regardless of the previous play. His competitive fire, ability to lead by example, and ability to hit big shots, he was an exemplary leader for his squad those two years.
Most importantly, it was obvious his teammates trusted him as well. If Bett made a bad pass, took a bad shot, his first reaction was to always tap his chest and say “my bad” to his teammates and coaching staff. His ability to own up to mistakes gave him the kind of respect that averaging 30 a night could never get you, he cared about more about the win and sticking together, than any number on a sheet or jersey.
When asked about Bett for this article, Ridley teammate Jaden Bediako, a player that has been representing Team Canada for over five years, a player that has been to a number of FIBA World Championships, Biosteel All-Canadian’s, and has played with, and against, some of the best high school players on the planet, simply referred to Bett as “our leader” when it came to those teams.
Those teams would also get their moment to shine in Bett’s final high school season.
After finishing dead last the year before, fifth seeded Ridley College was able to upset that same Orangeville Prep team that had ran them off of the floor earlier that year, and punched their ticket to the OSBA finals against TRC Academy.
For Bett, it was validation for all the talk and action of the brotherhood over anything else.
“That win felt good, I can’t lie it felt better than any of the others that year. They were so talented, and they knew it, they would let you know almost every play how good they were, whether it was with looks, words, or actions, they were just so good. So to finally get one over on them, you remember wins like that.”
The fairytale ending wasn’t to be however, as Ridley would fall in the finals, off a last second miss, to TRC Academy.
But the damage was done, Ridley had put the Canadian basketball scene on notice, and Cameron Bett was a huge factor in making that two year turn-around happen.
Nowadays you can see Cameron on the Queen’s University Gaels roster in the OUA. He’s just recovered from a broken foot suffered over the summer, but is now back on the floor, expected to contribute to this team in a major way during his freshman year.
Despite the challenges continuing to mount, and a new goliath in Carlton to slay in the USports world, Cam remains as focused as ever to leave his mark on Canadian basketball before all is said and done.
You can Bett on that.