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With his team leading the University at Buffalo by 24 points midway through the second half, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim gave the signal for Malik Campbell and Damone Brown to enter the game.

This was a chance for the Buffalo natives to play against a hometown school and get some much-needed game experience.

It didn't last long. Five minutes after getting into the game, they were back on the bench after UB began to rally.

This has been a common occurrence for Campbell and Brown, though neither will ever get used to it.

In high school, Campbell was a two-time All-Western New York guard at Turner/Carroll while Brown was the Section VI player of the year as a senior forward at Seneca.

Then, they were stars. Now, they are just a pair of frustrated freshmen waiting for their turn to shine for the 19th-ranked Orangemen (10-0).

"It's hard watching other guys play," said Brown, who is Campbell's roommate. "But that's the way things are, so you accept your role and be ready when your name is called."

Patience is not an easy thing for young men to have.

Especially Campbell, who has waited longer than most. The last time he played organized sports was the 1995-96 high school year. After earning a football scholarship from Maryland, he was forced to sit out all last season when the NCAA Clearinghouse ruled that some of the courses he took at Turner/Carroll did not meet the necessary requirements for Division I eligibility.

"Sometimes I felt like I was going to go crazy because I wasn't playing," Campbell said. "A lot of people helped keep my spirits up, especially my mom (Lillie) and dad (Tony) and (Turner/Carroll) coach (Fajri) Ansari.

"It's been so long, but I now want to play so bad and I know Damone feels the same way. It helps that we can go through this together. We're not going to stop trying. We're going to keep working hard and improve so the coaches won't have a choice but to play us."

Boeheim would like that very much. He recruited Campbell and Brown because he felt they were capable of playing at a high level.

While neither has made much of an impact yet (both average about five minutes per game), Boeheim's opinion of them has not changed.

"They are terrific basketball players," Boeheim said. "Malik may be the best athlete we've ever had here. He's also the best shooter among our young guys. Damone is a versatile guy who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from outside. We're very fortunate to have two freshmen of their caliber."

If they are that good, why aren't they playing more? The biggest reason is seniority. Brown backs up senior forward Todd Burgan, SU's best player. Campbell is behind senior shooting guard Marius Janulis, the team's top outside threat, and sophomore point guard Jason Hart, who led the Big East Conference in minutes played last season.

Brown also has to get bigger. He entered the program at a skinny 6-foot-8, 180 pounds. He has added more than 10 pounds, but still lacks the muscle to compete consistently in the rugged Big East.

"I've been lifting weights three times a day and it's making a difference," Brown said. "I'm never going to get really big, but size isn't important if you're strong enough. Once I get stronger, I'll be able to handle people at both ends of the court."

Brown's thin frame has drawn obvious comparisons to Louis Orr, who starred for SU in the late 1970s and is now an assistant coach. The 6-7 Orr feels he and Brown have a lot of similarities, most of which are positive.

"Damone's a good rebounder for his size, as I was," Orr said. "He has a nice perimeter shot like I had. But his ball skills are more advanced than mine were at his age. He's very comfortable away from the basket, while I worked more inside. He's way ahead of me as an athlete. If he keeps working on his game and gets stronger, I think he will have a great future ahead of him."

So will Campbell, but in what sport?

He originally signed a football letter of intent with SU, but was allowed to play basketball because football coach Paul Pasqualoni redshirted him.

Campbell plans to join the football team after basketball season and will decide which sport he will play full time following spring practice.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do right now," said Campbell, who was The Buffalo News and New York State football player of the year in 1995. "It's a tough decision because I love both sports."

The future of SU quarterback Donovan McNabb has a direct effect on Campbell's. McNabb is considering bypassing his senior season to apply for the National Football League draft.

Should McNabb turn pro, Campbell would go into spring practice with a shot at becoming the Orangemen's next starting quarterback.

"He (McNabb) is not sure what he's going to do yet," Campbell said. "I'm waiting to hear like everyone else."

If Campbell chooses football, he probably wouldn't be much help to the basketball team. Once football is over -- usually in early January if playing in a major bowl game -- the basketball season is nearly three months old.

That's why McNabb gave up basketball after two years, that and the realization it was not his best sport.

Charlie Ward of the New York Knicks was able to star as a point guard and quarterback at Florida State, but he is the most notable exception.

"It would be hard for me to play both, but I want to try if they let me," Campbell said.

Boeheim is staying out of the process.

"Malik has to make this decision by himself," Boeheim said. "Personally, I would love it if he chose to stay with us, but he's a great football player, too. It says a lot that he is talented enough to do both. Either way, I think he will be successful here."

For now, Campbell is more concerned about basketball. Unfortunately for him and Brown, all they can do is sit, watch and learn until their name is called.

It's not the best situation, but it is nothing new to first-year players at SU.

"I was in their shoes as a freshman and it was very hard for me, too," Burgan said. "But I've told them not to get discouraged because we are going to need them at some point this season. These guys have a lot of talent. Believe me, their time will come."

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