Mark Campbell Looks to Apply National Championship Coaching Acumen to USA Women’s U16 Team
Any of the 146 athletes invited to the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team trials this week are unlikely to go on and play college basketball for the man who will be their national team coach.
And while many will end up at quality programs a few years from now, they won’t be playing for anyone who reached 600 wins faster than U16 head coach Mark Campbell did at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
Campbell began coaching at Union in 1999. He already had amassed 100 career victories and was well on his way to 200 by the time the oldest players invited to this week’s U16 trials were born. Every player invited to the trials was born after Jan. 1, 2003.
Campbell earned win No. 600 on Jan. 10, 2019. He needed just 691 career games to get there. He reached the 600-win milestone faster than any coach in the history of the sport at any level, men’s or women’s, and boasts a ridiculous .867 winning percentage.
No wonder USA Basketball Women’s National Team Director Carol Callan sought out Campbell to serve as head coach of the USA U16 team. It’s the first USA Basketball assignment for the veteran coach, a responsibility that he takes seriously.
“I would say honored more than anything else, and trying to be responsible,” Campbell said. “I think some of the biggest things in life are gifts for you to enjoy but also you want to be really accountable for doing it well.”
This is the beginning of a long month for players and coaches, but an exciting one, too. Finalists for the team will be announced May 27 and will remain in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for training camp through May 31, when the 12-member roster officially is announced.
After a four-day break, the team will assemble again for a 10-day training camp before departing for the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, June 16-22 in Puerto Aysen, Chile.
While Campbell brings impressive credentials to his role along with assistant coaches Kelly Carruthers (James Bowie H.S., Texas) and Ruth Sinn (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota), the coaching staff might be giddier about being on the court with the nation’s best young players.
“From a talent perspective, it’s going to be different for all of us who are coaching,” Campbell said. “We’re not used to having players who can do two and three things with excellence. We’re used to having players who can do one thing with excellence and have people around them that can do others. That part of it is a mystery, and at the same time, it’s going to be a lot of fun watching people do things you can’t teach.”
Campbell played college basketball at Lipscomb University under renowned coach Don Meyer, who reached 700 wins faster than any coach in NAIA history. Campbell spent five seasons in the early 1990s, including a redshirt year, absorbing Meyer’s teachings and said he remains his primary mentor in coaching.
Campbell said his parents, Bob and Carolyn Campbell, prepared him well for whatever he encountered well before he met Meyer.
“My dad’s ability to be confrontational and loving at the same time, I think that’s a unique combination to be able to do correctly,” Campbell said.
In addition to winning 600 games, Campbell has led Union to five national championships and 12 seasons finishing third place or better in the nation. His teams finished third or higher in 10 consecutive seasons from 2005-2014.
The resume obviously is impressive. But, what might make a larger impact on people than wins and losses are the connections and relationships Campbell has forged. Campbell said he has had the success he has had at Union because of great players, assistant coaches and administrators at the school. He said he sees similar characteristics in USA Basketball and the group of coaches and players at the trials.
“The idea is the place where I coach, Union, is an unbelievable place where you have the opportunity to be a good husband, you have the opportunity to be a good father and you have an opportunity to prepare each year and try to win a national championship,” Campbell said. “There are not many places like that.”
College coaches have months to build trust and chemistry within a team. Campbell and his assistants will have less than two weeks once the final roster is announced. But Campbell believes the fundamentals of that don’t change even in a compressed timeline. His philosophy is that a successful group is all about relationships and being honest with one another.
He said his job is to put people in positions to be successful.
“I think your ‘why’ always is the answer,” Campbell said. “So, my ‘why’ is to impact and bring out the best in people that I’ve been given. Each one of them are going to have gifts, and to be able to put them into positions where they can give those gifts away for the benefit of the group.”