Every time UB coach Tim Cohane talks about his prize sophomore, Louis Campbell, he uses the same word to describe him. "Hungry."
Cohane has coached a lot of basketball in his day, but he's never seen a player with a more ravenous desire for the sport. Almost every day, Campbell will sit for two hours, devouring tapes -- of UB's practice sessions.
Campbell, a 6-foot-2 off guard from Rahway, N.J., is a dutiful student, someone who quickly absorbs knowledge and applies it on the floor. That's why it's hard to believe he had to sit out last season as a non-academic qualifier.
He learned a lot watching from the sidelines. He also proved himself in the classroom, earning a 2.8 grade-point average. But most of all, he discovered just how much the game meant to him.
"It's like anything that you love," Campbell said Tuesday night after UB's 49-48 win over Canisius. "Once it's taken away from you, you appreciate it a lot more. It makes you smarter, and it makes you stronger, too.
"Sitting out last year killed me," he said. "But I had people, like my mother and sister, who stayed behind me. The coaches and the seniors last year helped me through it. I worked on my game and just tried to stay positive. I'm playing now, and I'm hungrier than ever."
It showed against Canisius, as Campbell scored a game-high 18 points and shut down the Griffs' Keith Lambkin, limiting the normally steady senior to four points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Campbell was the best player on the floor, and clearly UB's best athlete. In fact, he might well be the best player Cohane has recruited in his six years as the Bulls' head man.
UB has some promising young talent on hand for its maiden run in the Mid-American. But some of the better athletes (Mike McKee, Damien Foster) won't be eligible until next year. At this point, the Bulls are lacking in creative players who can challenge the heart of an opponent's defense.
Campbell is the exception. He has a tremendous first step, good leaping ability and fine body control around the basket. Those qualities come in handy when a team is struggling for open shots in the half-court game, as this UB team will do this season.
The game was tied 41-all with 6:08 to play when Campbell drove into the lane, drew two defenders to him, and fed Maliso Libomi for an easy layup to give the Bulls the lead.
After a Canisius miss, Campbell got the ball along the right baseline. He burst past a defender, left the floor, shifted the ball to his left hand and laid the ball softly over the rim to give UB a four-point advantage.
The next time down the court, he lined up on the left side, froze Lambkin with a quick first step and made a twisting reverse layup to make it 47-41. Canisius got back to within one in the final minute, but UB held on.
"Louis can get by most people," Cohane said, "and then it's a matter of what he does after that. That's our new strategy -- get the ball to Louis and get the hell out of his way."
Campbell said his coaches and teammates drove that point home during recent practices. They said he had to be allowed to create offense if they expected to win.
"I think tonight you saw the Louis Campbell people expected to see," point guard Ryan Peterson said. "People forget he sat out last year and he's a little rusty."
The rust seems to be disappearing, and Campbell seems to have found a home at UB, which was the only school he seriously considered. He knew the Bulls were going into the MAC, and that tough times were in store, but he loved UB the first time he saw it.
"There was just something about the school," he said. "I knew it had good academics. I don't know what it was, but this place really excited me."
After a few performances like this one, the feeling will be mutual.