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UCLA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

UCLA guard Doreena Campbell brings style and substance to Bruins' NCAA tournament run

Campbell says her idol is Pete Maravich, but there's more to the 5-10 senior than scoring and flash. She's a pass-first point guard who orchestrates the offense for a UCLA team that is 27-4 heading into Saturday's NCAA first-round game against Montana.

March 18, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • UCLA guard Doreena Campbell is hoping to lead the Bruins on a long postseason run.
UCLA guard Doreena Campbell is hoping to lead the Bruins on a long postseason… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)

Reporting from Spokane, Wash. — Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Sue Bird all made impressions on a young Doreena Campbell.

But UCLA's senior point guard chose a different kind of old school four years ago when filling out a media-guide questionnaire asking her to identify the basketball player she admired most.

Her answer: Pete Maravich.

"Pistol Pete," she says, grinning.

Maravich, college basketball's all-time scoring leader, captured Campbell's imagination in middle school after she watched a biography of the late Louisiana State legend. Further video study of Maravich's shot, ballhandling skills and joy on the court revealed to a Campbell a groundbreaker who dazzled with a foundation of solid fundamentals.

"He always came up with new innovative moves, new things to put into the game," Campbell says. "I'm not a flashy kind of player like he was. . . . But I love this guy."

Playing during an era that featured a far more limited NCAA tournament field, Maravich never experienced March Madness.

The smooth-dribbling Campbell will get her second opportunity Saturday when third-seeded UCLA plays 14th-seeded Montana in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center.

It is the start of what Campbell hopes will be a deep postseason run, a final chance to play with teammates who have been part of a program-shifting transition under third-year Coach Nikki Caldwell.

Campbell — UCLA's "brain on the court," senior guard Darxia Morris calls her — directs the offense and averages 9.2 points a game for the 27-4 Bruins, who rebounded from a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Nebraska in 2010 to set a school record this season for regular-season victories.

Unlike Maravich, who was criticized for shooting too much, the 5-foot-10 Campbell is chided by Caldwell for being too unselfish.

"We have had to tell her, 'Look, you've got to be a little bit stingy about your shot,'" Caldwell says.

Born in Germany, Campbell honed her skills under the tutelage of her father, James, a former Tufts University point guard and recently retired Air Force aviator.

Her parents' military careers (her mother, Regina, is an engineer for the Army) kept the family on the move. Campbell, who came to UCLA from Alexandria, Va., also lived in Hawaii and Alabama and has traveled to Europe and Asia.

"I was able to see the world," she says. "Being in the military, it opens up your eyes. It takes away a lot of discrimination, racism and stuff like that.

"When you travel, you see things not so myopically."

Campbell was a basketball fan before she could walk, tagging along with her father to adult recreation league games when she was a toddler. He also coached her first youth team when she was 7.

"She scored two points the whole year," he recalls, laughing. "I was like, 'Oh great. She didn't get any genes.'"

James got an inkling of his daughter's determination in the months that followed. Doreena spent hours practicing alone in the driveway. The next season, she was one of the league's top scorers, and she developed into an accomplished club-circuit player by the time she entered high school.

"Her basketball IQ was already out the roof," says Dianne Lewis, her coach at Edison High in Alexandria.

Campbell led Edison to the state championship game in each of her last two seasons before choosing UCLA over Virginia, Vanderbilt and George Washington.

She played her first season under Kathy Olivier, who stepped down after a 16-15 season, and she has been at the forefront of Caldwell's push to make the Bruins a national power.

UCLA, 19-12 in Caldwell's first season, improved to 25-9 in 2010 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

Now Campbell and the Bruins are hoping to take the next step. UCLA, which won the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national title in 1978, has played in only one NCAA regional final and has never advanced to the Final Four.

"This coaching staff, they're going to be making some waves," Campbell says. "And it has been cool to be part of this senior class and that transition."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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