James, Campbell give Towson fresh outlook


Numbers lie.

In the East Coast Conference championship game, John James and Matt Campbell shot a combined 2-for-11 from the field, and for the season they've teamed for an average of 7.5 points. They are as skinny as freshmen get: James goes 6 feet 8, 190 pounds, and Campbell has the same lean lines at 6-6, 180.

The roommates haven't been pushed around, however, and without their contributions, which go beyond statistics, it's doubtful that Towson State (19-10) would have nailed down its second straight East Coast Conference championship and berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I always try to put high expectations on every kid we recruit," Towson State coach Terry Truax said, "but realistically, I didn't expect any freshman to perform as well for us as those two have this year."

Besides losing Kurk Lee to the New Jersey Nets, Towson State also had to rebuild its entire front line.

Chuck Lightening, an All-ECC junior forward, remains the centerpiece up front. But James replaced Will Griffin as the starting center in mid-February and Campbell, who subs for Larry Brown and Lightening, is usually on the floor at game's end.

The freshmen, who rebound, defend and move without the ball, struggled only with their shooting in Tuesday's ECC title game victory over Rider.

James was on the floor for 36 minutes, longer than any other Towson State player, and blocked five shots, upping his team-leading total to 50. The Tigers trailed 50-47 with less than eight minutes left when Campbell scored on an offensive rebound, then on two free throws in the bonus situation. No one on the team had more than Campbell's three assists.

James still is averaging less than 20 minutes a game, and Campbell is getting 16, but the freshmen, both of whom made the ECC all-rookie team, are happy for any minutes they're getting.

"We've done a lot more than some people thought we would," Campbell said. "In my case, I had to make the transition from a patient style to wanting to run the floor all the time. My agility and stamina were in question, but I didn't come off the floor much in high school."

Campbell had slightly better notices in high school: He was a first-team All-Metro selection last winter for Broadneck, where he averaged 26.1 points and 16.4 rebounds. He signed with Towson early, in October 1989, after long looks at UMBC, Hofstra and Lafayette.

He's the team's second-best free throw shooter, behind only Devin Boyd, who set a Towson State record for trips to the line.

James averaged eight blocks for St. Elizabeth's in Wilmington, Del., a school without much of a basketball tradition. The summer before his senior year, one scouting service listed his height as only 6-4. Delaware offered an academic scholarship, but James signed with Towson State three weeks after the Tigers had gone to their first NCAA tournament.

Center isn't his best position, but that's where James, who didn't turn 18 until a month into college, is starting. Truax likes getting him the ball at the high post to take advantage of James' vision. He has only 19 assists on the year, but he often makes the pass that precedes an assist.

"I learned to pass in middle school," James said. "When I was in the eighth grade, I played with a real good scorer, and I played on the wing and got him the ball. He did nothing after that."

The freshman class also includes Tom Caldwell, a 6-8, 225-pounder from Trenton, N.J.; Andrew Mason, a 6-4 swingman from Oxon Hill; and Patrick Manning, a 6-5 walk-on who attended St. Mary's High in Annapolis. Truax said he's never had a class with as much athletic ability, and said the others aren't far behind James and Campbell.

"Those two wouldn't be playing if they hadn't shown the maturity and confidence they have," Truax said. "They're both intelligent, and if their shooting's off, there are other things they can do to help us."

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