Growing up, D.J. Campbell always dreamed about being a star athlete. He just never pictured himself on a basketball court.
“My family is all soccer,” Campbell said. “It’s in our blood.”
Campbell didn’t play an organized basketball game until his freshman year at Vineland. But he’s been a remarkably quick study.
A 6-foot-2 senior guard, Campbell is Vineland’s all-time leading scorer with 1,353 points. He is averaging 28.7 points this season while powering the Clan in pursuit of their first winning season since 2008.
“He does it all,” Vineland coach Dan Russo said. “He’s extremely athletic, and his motor never stops.”
Campbell was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to Paterson in Passaic County as a 10-year-old and to Vineland when he was 14.
For most of his life, soccer has been Campbell’s main sport. In fact, that was literally true from Day 1, since his first name is Djorkaeff, after soccer star Youri Djorkaeff, who helped the French national team to the 1998 World Cup title as well as the Euro 2000 crown.
“My family just loves soccer,” Campbell said. “They don’t know anything about basketball. I’m the only one to ever play it.”
Campbell said he started playing basketball in pickup games on outdoor courts with new friends in Vineland during his eighth-grade year.
He went to a camp that summer, went 10-for-10 from the foul line in a contest, and was asked to join the Clan’s summer-league team.
“That was the first time I ever played [on a team],” Campbell said. “I liked being nervous, getting excited for the games.”
Campbell liked basketball so much he gave up soccer. He has made steady improvement on the hardwood, averaging 8.4 points as a freshman, 16.2 as a sophomore, and 22.6 last season.
After his junior year, at the prompting of Millville senior guard Rynell Lawrence, Campbell joined the Olympus AAU program, based in Williamstown.
“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Campbell said.
Despite being the focus of defenses, which sometimes employ a box-and-one and other trick alignments to slow him, Campbell has scored at a prolific pace this season.
He has scored more than 30 points in eight games, including a career-high 50 on Jan. 18 vs. Atlantic City.
“The night he dropped 50, I watched him warm up and he hit nine consecutive threes and the net barely moved,” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. "I said, 'Oh, we might be in for a tough night.’
"But what impressed me the most was he made a spin move and shot a hook bank shot and it didn’t look like luck.”
Campbell has played his best against good competition. He went for 27 points with 15 rebounds against Millville. He scored 35 against St. Joseph. He had 29 against Mainland.
“He rebounds, plays defense, gets the ball to his teammates,” Russo said.
Campbell is both long-range shooter and a threat to get to the rim. He has drained 72 three-pointers but also has made 113 free throws, a sign of his ability to get into the lane and play through contact.
Campbell, who has drawn recruiting interest from schools in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, including Stockton, is proudest of the progress Vineland has made as a program during his career.
The Clan are 11-8, with chance to finish above .500 for the first time in 11 seasons. As the No. 10 seed in South Jersey Group 4, Vineland will visit No. 7 seed Cherry Hill East on Feb. 25 in the first round of the tournament.
“It drives me every day,” Campbell said. “Since my freshman year, I’ve been hearing, ‘Oh, you guys will never win a playoff game,’ or, ‘Oh, you’ll never have a winning record.’