It is said that who you are is where you're from. For junior Tarik Campbell, that's Harlem and "streetball"--where everything goes except playing scared.
"Playing ball where I'm from was tough," Campbell says. "People would go after you. You'd have to be tough and show competitiveness."
Now, Campbell starts at point guard for the Harvard men's basketball team. He leads in the Ivy League in assists with 5.4 per game (two years ago, he was third in the nation at 8.5 apg). He is playing--and starring--in hallowed arenas such as The Palestra in Philadelphia and Boston College's Conte Forum and matching up against players like Duke's Bobby Hurley (in his first collegiate game).
"That type of streetball taught [me] what [I] had to do to succeed in college basketball," Campbell adds.
And although Campbell has enjoyed the past seven years of organized hoops--Campbell attended St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., before coming to Harvard--he maintains that the most rewarding moments of his basketball life were the days and nights he spent fighting those tough, hard-nosed playground battles with his twin brother, Gary, in Harlem.
It was on those courts that Campbell mastered the skills and tools of his craft: the art of the pass, the subtleties of protecting the ball and the frequent lack of subtlety necessary on defense.
It was also where he learned never to back down from a challenge, to play with determination and how to play to win.
"Playing ball in Harlem was tough. You had to be tough in order to accomplish anything, or else you'd get eaten up," Campbell says.
It is almost logical that when he decided to take last year off for personal reasons, he--like Anteus, the Greek wrestler who drew strength from Mother Earth--would head straight back to his old neighboorhood.
He worked at the Columbia School of Public Health's preventive medicine program, which is geared towards lowering the mortality rate in his hometown. He got to give back some of what he had taken, but he also took some more:
"I went out on my own and started gaining a lot more independence and responsibility," Campbell says. "It's good to get out and get a taste of reality."
The year at home matured him both as a basketball player and a person. But talking to Campbell, it is impossible to escape the effect of his roots.
Just ask him about, oh, his personality, for instance.
"You have to fight to get out of Harlem. You end up taking that attitude wherever you go. I think that guys on the team know that I'll never quit," Campbell says.
Spending a year at home seems to be paying off for Campbell on the basketball court. Asked to take on a large part of the scoring role, Campbell is averaging 11.5 points per game to go with his league-leading assist tally. He is also, according to his teammates, providing his team with much-needed leadership.