Mark Campbell Turns in Stellar Performance With USA U16 Women
For Mark Campbell, it was all about timing.
The women’s basketball coach at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, said he had been approached a few times to coach a USA Basketball team for international competition, but it always came late in the school year and he already had his summer plans with his family mapped out, so he had to turn the opportunity down.
This year, that call came in February — before he could think of a summer retreat — and he took on the responsibility of coaching the USA Basketball team that participated in the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Chile.
“My wife and I were clear this is something I should do,” Campbell said. “There's nothing that puts pressure on you (more) than representing your country. And so for me, it was the stepping into it in faith, doing something that I ended up really enjoying, even though I don't ever like being away from my wife and my kids. So, to be away from them for about a month was something that's outside of my norm.
“I tell my players all the time to step out and be uncomfortable for the purposes of growth and to be able to trust. And for me, it was to trust in God to be able to step out and know that I was doing something I love doing, being around young people watching them grow, be in an environment I've never been in before, and so that's why I did it. And it exceeded my expectations.”
To put a cherry on top of his experience, which was capped by leading the Americans to a gold medal, Campbell was named as a 2019 USA Basketball Co-Developmental Coach of the Year. He shares the honor with Mike Jones, who led the USA U16 men to their corresponding FIBA Americas Championship in Brazil.
“Just being a part of USA Basketball this summer and being able to experience the culture and the weight of being a representative was one of the more enjoyable moments of coaching for me,” Campbell said. “And so, I think it really points to how talented our group was and how much I enjoyed being around them, and then my assistant coaches (Kelly Carruthers and Ruth Sinn) as well. Just being a part of it all has been a real honor.”
The U.S. was dominant in Chile. In going 6-0 and winning a fifth FIBA Americas U16 gold medal in the six times the event has been held, the U.S. outscored its opponents by an average of 103-32.5. Its closest game was an 87-37 win over Canada for the gold.
“We have really good players,” Campbell said. “That's what it comes down to. And all these coaches that are celebrated are celebrated because they have really good players. Now that doesn't mean coaching isn't important and there’s not a premium on it, it just means that you can't win without it. It's impossible. And so, we had great players. We really emphasized being able to use the things that we were already gifted at, which means scoring in transition, rebounding, use of our athleticism, putting pressure on the ball, things like that. I think that because of the athleticism and size and the strength, we need to be able to maximize the opportunity to take advantage that we are better than most countries in those areas.”
With that bar set, Campbell will take on the challenge of coaching the 2020 USA U17 women’s team at the FIBA U17 World Cup.
“I think for me, just in our coaching staff, is to make sure we're prepared,” Campbell said of the World Cup. “I think being able to have a year under our belt to understand what Colorado Springs is like, what the atmosphere we're training in, some of our players — the players have to try out again — but how do we use those players now that we can have some forethought about that, because some of them will be back on the team.”
That will mean another month of a second straight summer away from his family. But it also fits into another part of his philosophy.
“My biggest takeaway is that we should always put ourselves in uncomfortable situations,” Campbell said. “Because I think so many times as coaches we are on an island, when we put it all in — it's usually an ego thing. And so for me, it's to back up and really say, 'It was really good for me to feel uncomfortable and challenged. Just like I demand from my players.' I've been in the same place for 26 years. So, coming to work every day, there aren't new challenges. There's some things that happen with my team every year, but relationally and being familiar, I know what to expect. Being unfamiliar sometimes heightens our senses a little bit. So that heightened sense, I think made me a better basketball coach coming into this year with my (Union) team.”