Marcus Campbell heads to the clouds
Marcus Campbell has always been tall.
At 14, he was seven foot and basketball was his game.
The combination of height and basketball has given the American the opportunity to travel the world, earning him a wage and providing him with a lifestyle he enjoys.
The sport has brought him to New Zealand, Taranaki in particular, where the 29-year-old has teamed up with the Mountain Airs in this year's National Basketball League competition.
After a slow start, the 2.14 metre forward is quickly becoming a crowd favourite.
Strangely though, basketball was not his first sporting love.
"The first sport I ever learnt to play was golf. My granddad and his brothers played and I learnt from them," he said this week.
"But the taller I got, the less interested I was. It wasn't that the clubs were too short or anything like that, it was the excitement and enjoyment I got from basketball was so much more. The excitement you get from golf didn't fit my demeanour ... it was a bit slower."
He's talking about passion, something he oozes on court as he remonstrates with referees, or dare I say it, with other players.
"I'm totally different on court. I like to wind up and get into it ... sometimes a little too into it," he said. "My personality is you don't come into another man's house and push him around. It's a respect thing."
That probably accounts for Campbell getting into a pushing spat with Saints forward Casey Frank when the two sides clashed in New Plymouth a week ago.
"I think they were getting away with a bit too much. The refs can only call what they see and sometimes you have to stand up."
Campbell, who played basketball at Mt Zion High School for two years before heading to college at Mississippi State from 2001 to 2005 followed by two years playing NBA minor league, makes no excuse for playing with a bit of "attitude".
"We've got to take advantage of the home court and let other teams know it's our court. The crowds here have been really, really nice and we have to cash in on that," he said. "They are really supportive and we appreciate that, but we have to pay them back by working hard and getting some wins."
And winning is something Campbell wants more than most.
"My goal is to win games. Stats are only for the fans. If you don't win, stats don't mean anything," he said. "I like winning. Numbers without winning are just numbers."
Campbell believes the Mountain Airs can string some wins together. "We're finding ourselves as a team. We're finding out what we do well and we have to cash in on that. Every team grows. We're a bunch of guys who need to find their niche and we're doing that," he said. "I see that improvement. People may not see that in the wins and losses columns, but I feel as a team we're playing better and the wins will come."
Campbell said the most noticeable thing he had found about the New Zealand league was how physical it was compared with basketball in the States and Europe where he had played.
"It's way more physical, which is what I tend to like. In certain places where I've played, you can hardly touch an opponent, but here you can play as physical as the refs allow."
Campbell shed some light onto his slow start in game one against the Bay Hawks only hours after landing in New Zealand.
"That was my first game since mid-January. I'd been working in the gym, but I wasn't match fit. I'm definitely fitter now and I always knew it would take long to be match fit."
Campbell said basketball was his fulltime occupation.
"It's all year long. I'll play here to July and then probably head back to Europe for the rest of the year to either France, Spain or Italy where I've played before. I won't know until mid-June when the contracts are sorted," he said.
So where did the height come from in his family?
"Mum (Anne) is only five foot nine ... she played volleyball at high school. Dad (Joe) is six foot six and played basketball at high school. My granddad was six foot eight. And his brothers were tall," he said. "Robert played football at high school ... the girls weren't into sport."
What about other goals other than winning while in Taranaki?
"Fishing, I enjoy fishing. I've never caught anything but I like it. It's very relaxing. And JK (Taranaki Basketball chairman John Kensington) has promised me a trip out."
Taranaki Daily News