Campbell lending Gaels a hand


POSTED: Monday, December 21, 2009

Hawaii assistant coach Eran Ganot put it best.

“;So what's the story here? 'The prodigal son returns?' “;

Pretty much.

Former Rainbow Warriors point guard Mark Campbell arrived back in Hawaii last night for the first time since his playing days ended nearly seven years ago, when he guided the Rainbows to 46 wins over UH's last NCAA Tournament year of 2001-02 and the NIT season of 2002-03.

He looks essentially the same, sounds the same. He's the one who made running a UH team selflessly a science as a pure lead guard, deferring almost to a fault to scorers like Predrag Savovic and Carl English. On his senior night in '03, he said, “;If I could average 15 assists and never score a point I would be the happiest guy.”;

Well, he's still assisting players, albeit in a different capacity. The difference is he's wearing not Hawaii green and white, but the blue and red of Saint Mary's College. And he's doing it from the sidelines.

Campbell is an assistant coach with the Gaels, one of eight teams (along with host UH) participating in the inaugural Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic starting tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center.

“;To me it's very special because I didn't get to come back,”; Campbell said. “;I played in the Stan Sheriff, and it had a lot of great memories while I was there playing for UH.

“;I'll definitely go up to the office and see Coach (Bob) Nash and Coach (Jackson) Wheeler and (team secretary) Bobbie Omoto and Ganot, so it'll be fun to see all those guys.”;





        What: First-round game

Who: College of Charleston (5-4) at Hawaii (5-4)


When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.


Where: Stan Sheriff Center




Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM




HE'LL BE welcomed with open arms. Campbell is one of the winningest two-year players in UH history, was an All-Western Athletic Conference defense pick as a senior and a two-time all-league academic player. The 6-foot-4 team captain seldom gave an inch of court space freely to opponents and finished third all-time in UH career assist average at 5.4—behind only Anthony Carter and Tom Henderson.

When asked of Campbell at a recent practice, Nash feigned gruff indifference about the former player. Only for a moment, though.

“;Mark was a tremendous leader, a guy who we counted on to control tempo for us on the basketball court,”; Nash said. “;He's just a leader in every sense of the word. We knew fairly early on that he was going to be a coach at some point in his life. Fortunately for him ... now he's at Saint Mary's. He's going to be a tremendous coach.”;

Saint Mary's (9-1) opens up the Classic against Northeastern (2-5) on the opposite side of the bracket from UH (5-4), which draws College of Charleston (5-4). It would take some doing, but conceivably the Rainbows could meet the Gaels in the tourney title game, and Campbell would patrol the opposite sideline behind head coach Randy Bennett against his former team.

“;It'd be great. That'd be the ideal situation, meeting Hawaii in the championship,”; said Campbell, a moment before coach-speak slipped in. “;Just obviously like any coach, you've gotta take it one game at a time, and make sure we're prepared for each team.”;

HE KNEW for a long time he wanted to coach. After getting his undergrad degree at UH, Campbell got a master's in education from George Fox University (Ore.) in 2006 and entered the coaching ranks. He led a successful AAU team in the Pacific Northwest, then spent two years assisting at Clackamas (Ore.) Community College, the same place he starred as a player in 2000-01. From there he spent one year as a Pepperdine assistant before latching on with the successful Saint Mary's program. He spent 2008-09 as a director of operations, then was promoted to full assistant before this season. Campbell deals in the full range of coaching activities, from working with the Gaels players (particularly the guards) to recruiting and scouting.

Saint Mary's is the same school and coaching staff with which Ganot got his start as an administrative assistant for three years before joining UH. The two young coaches forged a friendship based on their mutual stops and passion for the game—despite rarely being in the same place at the same time.

“;This is funny, two years ago down at the Final Four, I think it was in San Antonio ... I slept on Eran's hotel (room) floor,”; Campbell said. “;And last year when (UH) played at Fresno State, I went up and met with him there. While we're out recruiting we'll hook up and go grab something to eat.”;

“;He jokes, he says basketball junkies find each other,”; said Ganot, who also finished his playing career in 2003, at Swarthmore (Pa.). “;He's probably a little older; I'm considerably more mature. (But) I love the Hawaii program and he loves the Hawaii program. That's where it started. I obviously have a lot of respect for what he's done here as a player. He's a really good guy. If we sit in a room we can talk hoops for hours.”;

CAMPBELL SWEARS his return to Hawaii is coincidence—yet he couldn't hide his enthusiasm for it.

“;I've always wanted to come back,”; Campbell said. “;It's not like it's been something that's planned. But when we had the opportunity to come out and play in the Diamond Head, and it's going to be at the Stan Sheriff ... it's something I got pretty excited about.”;

His allegiance may have shifted, but Campbell isn't averse to tossing out another assist or two to the Rainbows.

“;We'll trade scouting reports on some of the other teams,”; he said, then laughed.