Hawaii guard Mark Campbell and his wife of five months, former Vanderbilt guard Ashley, have similar styles on the court.

Guards that go together

Mark and Ashley Campbell have built
a marriage around the game of basketball

By Cindy Luis

Mark and Ashley Campbell have given new meaning to the term "courtship."

The two standout basketball players -- he a current senior at Hawaii, she a former three-year starter at Vanderbilt -- gave up summer league for summer love. The two point guards were married in Oregon on June 1, connecting a long-distance relationship that had reached from Hawaii to Tennessee with stops in Washington, Oregon and California.

Most were surprised that the reception, attended by some 450, didn't include a 3-on-3 tournament. Some marriages are said to be made in heaven; this one is built on a solid foundation of hoops.

"Our families have known each other since we were little," said Mark Campbell, whose senior season opens tonight when the Rainbows face the EA Sports California All-Stars in a 5 p.m. exhibition. "But we had always been in different places at different times. When she came home for Christmas break her senior year (2000), we started to spend more-than-just-friends time, more quality time.

"I don't know that there's one moment in a relationship when you 'just know.' There's not one instant when the light bulb went on all of a sudden. We just kept getting closer and closer.

"With both of us so into basketball ... not many guys can go talk to their girlfriends and then actually listen to what she says. It's awesome that I have the best of both worlds, the great team here and adding the most special person in my life to it."

Both deeply religious, the two said they would not live together until after their wedding. Mark Campbell is the third married Rainbow in Coach Riley Wallace's 16 seasons -- the others being John Molle and Nerijus Puida.


UH vs. EA Sports California exhibition, 5 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center

"I thought they were still a little young, but Mark's mature and Ashley's mature," said Rainbow assistant coach Jackson Wheeler, who recruited Campbell. "I think they understand it might be harder than they first thought it was going to be.

"But marriage can add maturity. And Ashley totally understands the demands of Division-I basketball. She was a high-school All-American, she played at Vanderbilt, a Top-10 program. She's really supportive and can critique him because she's got a lot of the same traits as a player that Mark has."

The couple laughs when asked who is the better player.

"Our games are almost identical," said Mark Campbell, who led last year's 27-6 team with 151 assists and has been chosen as this season's team captain. "Ash is a great point guard, a team leader, a great passer. For both of us, scoring is not the main thing. We pass and lead.

"I don't know who's the better free-throw shooter. I know I hit mine in the clutch. But I'd say I'm the better passer."

"Yeah, right," said Ashley Campbell, the SEC assist leader as a freshman in 1997-98. She also set an event record with 11 assists in 22 minutes in the NIKE/WBCA All-American high school game, taking only three seconds to dish out her first assist and 40 seconds for her second.

She had a storybook career at Oregon City (Ore.) High under her father, Brad Smith, leading the Pioneers to three straight USA Today national titles, four Oregon Class 4A state crowns and a four-year record of 102-2. The Pioneers went 26-0 her junior and senior seasons, and had a 68-game winning streak.

Her husband-to-be, two years her junior, had a rockier start out of Mt. Vernon (Wash.) High. He spent a year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo but transferred to Clackamas (Ore.) Community College after several players and an assistant coach left the tumultuous program.

"I think it broke him a little bit, especially when the coach said he'd never be a Division I player," said Wheeler. "I went to a tournament in California to see this other guard, but when I saw Mark play, I loved him and got on him to come here."

Campbell averaged a nation-leading 10.2 assists for the Cougars as a sophomore. But he didn't need an assist from his future wife to commit to the Rainbows.

"I was about ready to move back from Nashville to Oregon when he called and asked, 'Should I do it? I really want to go to Hawaii,'" said Ashley Campbell, who was recruited by Wahine coach Vince Goo, a longtime family acquaintance, but did not make a campus visit. "He called me back five minutes later and said, 'I committed.'

"I was so excited for him. He had such a hard experience at Cal Poly, he lost a lot of confidence and started not believing in himself. Now he's here and experiencing what college basketball is all about."

There's been some magical moments off the court as well. Last Dec. 20, Mark Campbell proposed on a beach in Waikiki with a message in a bottle.

He had burned brown paper to look like parchment, scripted a message in calligraphy that read in part, "Beware. If you're willing to take a risk, read the next page." Then he stuffed the paper into a bottle, buried it in the sand and, after a moonlight dinner picnic, steered Ashley toward the bottle.

"She said, 'Oh, my gosh, there's a note inside,'" he recalled. "I told her she should read it. The next page said, 'Will you marry me?' I got down on my knee, asked her and she said yes."

Campbell told teammates Carl English and Lance Takaki, but the official announcement didn't come until two nights later, after Hawaii defeated Georgia for the Rainbow Classic championship.

The honeymoon continues. Call it "Married ... with basketball."

The future includes an elementary education degree in 2004 for Mark Campbell, a teaching credential for Ashley, who already has a degree in business and organizational management. He would like to play basketball professionally, she'd like to join a dance team and renovate an old house.

The best advice they've been given so far comes from their "marriage counselors" -- former Hawaii players Nerijus and Dainora Puida.

"Nerijus tells me, 'Always say yes to the woman,'" said Mark Campbell. "That works.

"Right now, life couldn't be any better."

NOTE: The Rainbows wrapped up their last preseason practice yesterday more bruised than expected. Junior center Haim Shimonovich hurt his hip Friday and had limited motion yesterday. Senior forward Paul Jesinskis bruised a bone in his left (non-shooting) hand, which may limit his participation tonight.

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