Alumni Spotlight: T.J. Campbell

Everyone in America loves an underdog, and a close-knit, blue collar community like Canton is no exception. That is a fact known by anyone who has ever gotten a feel for the Hall of Fame City and its people know, and itís no surprise that area sports fans were so keen to embrace T.J. Campbell during his run as Canton Charge point guard over their inaugural 2011-12 season.

One of just six choices in the 2011 draft (4th round, 49th overall) for Canton, Campbell was brought in after a solid collegiate career at the West Coast Conferenceís University of Portland and a single stint playing pro ball in Australia. In two years for the Pilots, he averaged 12.4 points on .464 shooting with 2.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals. T.J. also had a reputation as a long-distance shooter after hitting 48% of his attempts from beyond the three-point line.

The glaring issue which had kept Campbell from getting looks from larger schools and ultimately the NBA early on was his physical stature. While his 5í9Ē, 190-pound frame may not intimidate many backcourts, his production by way of a balancing offensive attack of the rim through dribble penetration and a sweet jump shot leaves enough for opponents not to be able to overlook his production and impact in a game.

Campbell earned an opportunity to impress Charge coaches and fans alike when thrust into the starting point guard role during a 10-game stretch in December where he averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 assists while still getting acclimated to the speed and precision of the pro game. A 15-point, 10-assist effort in a win over Sioux Falls during that stretch for his first double-double provided a glimpse of how good this young guard could be.

The ten-game audition proved to confirm what then GM Wes Wilcox and Head Coach Alex Jensen had suspected when they originally took Campbell, and they placed enough faith in him to be the starter after dealing Keith McLeod in late January. T.J. would then be tabbed to become the starter for the rest of the season.

The young guardís scoring average went up to double digits by his second start after the trade, and more time on the court allowed him to solidify himself as one of the premier three-point shooters in the D-League that season after hitting 73-of-176 attempts for a .415 percentage. He finished the year posting averages of 12.6 points on .418 shooting with 3.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 0.9 steals in 30.9 minutes per game.

After adding a consistent playoff effort over six games that included a quite memorable game winner, Campbell set his sights on the next step in his basketball career. Every D-League player wants to earn that elusive call-up, but he had worked hard and vastly improved his game during that first year. The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly took noticed after watching him all season and invited him to participate on the Cavs NBA Summer League squad in Vegas.

T.J. was able to take valuable insights and coaching away from his time in Vegas with the Cavaliersí staff and played well in limited minutes. Against tougher competition that included some top drafted rookies and D-League All-Stars alike, he averaged 5.2 points on .389 shooting with 1.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.6 steals in 16.2 minutes per game.

Charge fans surely would have loved to have T.J. come back for their second season, as itís a no-brainer for a veteran and fan favorite to be desired after watching him grow throughout season one and into the summer. However, he could not pass up an offer from Dijon Bourgogne of Franceís premier ProA league to come play in Europe.

Teams overseas covet American talent like T.J. who are good enough to play in NBA exhibition and the D-League, but donít ultimately land a roster spot to start the season. Coupled with Americaís reputation as the best in basketball, those players are viewed as the top talent to lure over and play internationally for competitive contracts.

The European game can be more spaced out and the ability to knock down jumpers is as coveted as it is crucial to success. A player like Campbell who can knock down deeper shots when necessary as well as break down defenses to open opportunities for teammates is tailor made for it.

In 32 games for Dijon through the 2012-13 season, he averaged 8.8 points on .454 shooting with 1.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 0.6 steals in 26.1 minutes per game. He used that season of acclimation to play well for Dijon in a six-game EuroChallenge run where he poured in 14.5 points per game on .519 shooting with 1.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.0 steal in 28.2 minutes per game.

Many players use the increased and varied European competition to further improve their game by diversifying its strengths. Campbell, however, also made sure to fine tune what he was already good at by hitting 39% of threes during Dijonís season and 52% of long distance attempts in the EuroChallenge.

T.J. Campbell is an undersized player who makes up for it in effort, drive and a knack for hitting timely three-pointers. His game has taken him around the world, but Stark County sports fans will always remember him as one of the driving forces behind the start of the Canton Chargeís successes.

The Canton Charge are exclusively operated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and also owned by a group led by Cavaliers Majority Owner and Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert. The group also owns and operates the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League and the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League, both playing at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

Fans can stay up-to-date on team news by following the team @CantonCharge on Twitter here and on Facebook here.