Stockton University men’s basketball coach Scott Bittner saw just about every home game DJ Campbell played his senior season at Vineland High School.
And at every game, someone from Vineland would approach Bittner and tell him what a great person Campbell was.
“I don’t think I ever had that before,” Bittner said. “The janitor would come over, the security guard came over. Every person came over.”
With the success of Rutgers, Seton Hall and Princeton, New Jersey is in the midst of a banner college basketball season, but Campbell and Stockton are one of the state’s biggest stories.
The 6-foot-3 junior guard led the Ospreys to the New Jersey Athletic Conference title. He averages 19.5 points and was the NJAC Player of the Year. Stockton (24-4) will host Wilson College (Pa.) (18-7) in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament 4:30 p.m. Friday. If Stockton wins, it will play Saturday against the winner of Friday’s 1 p.m. game between John Hopkins and Yeshiva.
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“I had dreams about all this happening,” Campbell said.
When Campbell talks about this season being a dream, he literally means it. Campbell is so crazy about basketball he often dreams about the sport while he sleeps.
“I go to sleep thinking about basketball,” he said.
Campbell, 21, is the type of player Stockton thrives on. He’s a big-time talent that slipped through the high school basketball cracks for a number of a reasons.
He was born in Jamaica and moved to Paterson, Passaic County, as a child. Campbell then moved to Vineland when he was in the eighth grade.
That’s when he took up basketball after friends urged him to play at the local boys club. In his first game, he sank three 3-pointers in a summer league game against rival Millville.
Vineland is not a traditional basketball power, and Campbell’s career was slow to start in part because of some academic struggles.
He peaked as a senior, leading the state in scoring with a 29.4 average and finishing with a school record 1,485 career points.
“I just like playing, competing,” Campbell said. “I like the hard work and the good and bad that comes with that — missed shots, close games.”
Campbell showed his love of close games when he made three pivotal plays in the closing minutes of Stockton’s 95-91 win over Rowan in last Saturday’s NJAC title game.
He drove the lane and scored over 6-foot-7 Rowan forward Andrew Seager with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left to put Stockton up six. Campbell blocked a potential game-tying layup with 6.6 seconds left and then sank two free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining to clinch the win.
“DJ cherishes the moment,” Bittner said. “He lives for the moment.”
Most high school and youth players and their parents have little idea of how good one has to be to play college basketball at any level.
Campbell is an example of the talent and work ethic it takes. What says the most about his dedication and character is what happened after the NJAC title game.
Campbell took the trophy home and the next morning he brought it to Faith Bible Church in Vineland. The church has a gym that Campbell often worked out in when in high school.
“That’s how great of a kid he is,” Bittner said. “It’s Sunday morning after the NJAC final. He’s in church. Everybody else is (asleep).”
“I grew up in church,” Campbell said. “I prayed about winning the championship and staying healthy. It was a fun moment, something I won’t forget.”
But Campbell isn’t perfect. He admitted with a smile that he took the trophy after the Rowan game without asking.
“That trophy that (represents) a lot of hard work,” he said. “I just wanted to have it for the night.”
As Bittner tweeted the next day, at least it was in good hands.