Hawaii big man stepping up his game
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
The player with the unique shoes has surprisingly emerged as a force in recent games for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
The surprise is that we're not talking about Roderick Flemings.
Paul Campbell — the only player on the team who wears black shoes — has been the most consistent player for the Rainbow Warriors in the past two weeks.
The 6-foot-10 senior center is averaging 14.0 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting for a sizzling .792 field goal percentage in Hawai'i's last three games.
"I'm just playing with a lot more confidence now," Campbell said. "I'm getting a lot more time on the court, so I'm just trying to make the most of it."
Campbell will try to keep his hot streak going today when the 'Bows play a Western Athletic Conference road game at Fresno State.
It is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. (Hawai'i time) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. It will be broadcast via radio on ESPN 1420 AM.
Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said Campbell's recent run has been a product of practice habits.
"There's no real magic formula to explain it," Nash said. "He's worked hard to get to this point. It's been a three-year process for Paul, so to see him play with this kind of confidence and success is very rewarding."
Campbell arrived in Hawai'i as a sophomore prior to the 2007-08 season. In his first two seasons as a 'Bow, he averaged 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, and reached double-figure points just once in 54 games.
"I don't think he had the confidence he has now," Nash said. "And his teammates now have confidence in him. Before, it was like if you pass it to him, will he even catch it? Now, the guys know if they get it to Paul near the rim, he'll finish."
Yet, Campbell's number is rarely called in Hawai'i's half-court offense. Most of his points come on putbacks of his teammates' misses.
"We don't really call sets in our offense for Paul," Nash said. "He knows it, but that hasn't stopped him from being a productive player. He goes out and gets what ever comes off the rim."
Indeed, 36 of Campbell's 66 total rebounds this season are offensive boards.
Hawai'i assistant coach Larry Farmer, who works with the UH post players, said Campbell makes up for his lack of bulk with quickness.
Campbell weighs 215 pounds, and often has to take on 275-pound Douglas Kurtz and 265-pound Petras Balocka in practice. He faces similar discrepancies in games.
"You watch Paul when a shot is released, and he's always going to the basket," Farmer said. "He goes against Petras and Doug ever day, and he's not going to move those guys. But what he does is he beats those guys to a better sport to get the rebound."
As a result, Campbell is a much-improved version of the Most Improved Player of last season.
"It's an interesting study because he was our most improved player from start to finish last year," Farmer said. "And he's doing an even better job of that this year. As a coach, you wish that all players could improve that much over the course of a season."
It almost didn't happen.
Early in his junior season, Campbell told the Hawai'i coaches that he was ready to return home to Toronto. He felt like he wasn't helping the team and wanted to find a program where he could get more playing time.
"I was serious about it," he said. "But I talked to a lot of people and realized it would be best for me to stay, as far as basketball and school and everything else."
By the end of his junior season, he was the starting center. He maintained his starting role this season.
After a slow start, he is now averaging 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and leads the team with 22 blocked shots and a .569 field goal percentage.
Nash is quick to point out Campbell's work ethic. During a recent practice, he did not make a required 10 consecutive free throws in the allotted time of 20 minutes. After the practice, Campbell shot free throws by himself for 30 minutes.
"He has limitations," Nash said. "But he's a very astute basketball player. When you point out something to him, he works hard at it until he gets better at it."
Then again, Campbell has been playing catch up for years. While growing up in Toronto, his primary sport was hockey.
"Everybody plays hockey in Canada," he said. "I got a lot taller really fast, and basketball seemed like the better sport for me to play."
Through it all, Campbell has remained on pace to graduate in May with a degree in sports management.
His parents, Guy and Shirley, said that education was Campbell's priority at Hawai'i.
"When he told me he wanted to come home (last year), my first thought was, 'What about your school?' " Shirley said. "Fortunately, he's always been well-grounded and we were ready to support any decisions he made."
As proof of their emphasis on education, Guy and Shirley have been saving money for three years for an upcoming trip to Honolulu. They have never seen one of his UH basketball games in person, but will be there for his graduation.
"It's a lot of money to fly from Toronto to Hawai'i," Campbell said. "And my mom told me that graduation would be bigger than any game, so it's cool."