Editor’s note: During the summer of 2012, the New Haven Register ran a New Haven 200 series to commemorate its 200th anniversary. GameTimeCT.com will share high school related stories from that series periodically throughout the summer.
Bruce “Soup” Campbell was always head and shoulders above his peers, and not just because of his basketball skills.
As a sixth-grader at New Haven’s Winchester Grammar School, he stood 5 feet 11. Within two years, he’d shot up another seven inches. He entered Wilbur Cross as a 6-foot-7 freshman. By his senior year, he was a shade over 6-9.
Campbell, at the time, was hoping his growth spurt wasn’t finished.
“I’ve always wanted to be 7-6,” he told the Register’s Mark Lewis in 1974. “I’d like to dominate the game, and I feel I’d need that size to do it.”
Of course, Campbell was already dominating. He was one of the best high school players in the country and a key cog on a Governors team that would finish the season ranked No. 1 in the nation by the Washington Post.
In an era when New Haven was churning out elite players by the bushel, Campbell was among the very best. He was more than a big man. “Soup” could run the floor, shoot with a feathery touch and handled the ball so well his coach, Bob Saulsbury, said he could probably play guard.
Campbell, one of nine children, was a bit reluctant to play high school ball. He enjoyed the daily run with friends around Dixwell Avenue, and wasn’t interested in the mundane routine of organized practices. One day, Saulsbury called Campbell’s mother and told her Bruce was good enough to be playing for Wilbur Cross.
“My mother looked at what I was doing and asked me, ‘Are you crazy?'” Campbell told Connecticut Magazine in 1974. “She practically forced me to play at Cross. I started as a freshman, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I did things only when I wanted to. People began to tell me that I was just a big nothing.”
Determined to improve, Campbell finally bought into Saulsbury’s system. His breakout year came as a junior when he averaged 25.8 points and 18 rebounds, including a remarkable 43-point, 28-rebound effort against Weaver.
The next season, teaming with guard Jim “Jiggy” Williamson, the Governors were an unstoppable force in winning all 24 games and the Class LL championship. Campbell, who asked to be moved from center to forward, averaged 26 points and 18 rebounds. Williamson was right behind at 25.8 ppg. “Soup” finished his career with 1,737 points, a jaw-dropping 1,300 rebounds and an untold score of blocked shots.
A highly sought-after recruit — a reported 300 colleges were interested — Campbell attended Providence College. He became one of the Friars’ all-time greats at a time when the program was enjoying great success. Sold-out crowds at Providence Civic Center were the norm as the Friars, led by Campbell, reached two National Invitation Tournaments and two NCAA tournaments between 1974-78.
Campbell scored 1,809 career points with 949 rebounds. As a sophomore, he earned honorable mention All-America honors, averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds.
A draft pick of the New Jersey Nets, Campbell was cut late in training camp. The team told him there was a chance he could be re-signed later in the season. Instead, he headed to Europe where he played professionally for nearly 10 seasons in Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Great Britain. He grew to love the European people and style of play. Europe, in time, loved him back.
“When people got to know Bruce Campbell and who Bruce Campbell really was, a fun-loving guy who was willing to work in the community and help as many people as possible, they completely accepted me,” Campbell told the Register’s George Wadley in 1985. “(Playing in Europe) has made a man of me. I learned to deal with problems. I saw a lot of guys who were terrific college players go over there and not make it because they couldn’t deal with being away from home. I learned to take care of business by myself.”
Campbell returned to New Haven for the first time in a decade to play for the Connecticut Colonials of the new United States Basketball League in 1985. A longtime employee of the High Meadows Department of Children and Families, he helped troubled kids get back on track. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.
Among his post-basketball pleasures was watching his son, Bruce, develop into an NFL offensive lineman. “Little Bruce,” as his mother, Rita, affectionately calls him, inherited his father’s size and athletic gifts. At 6-6 and 315 pounds, he starred at Hyde and Maryland and was a fourth-round pick in the NFL draft. He spent four years in the NFL and now plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
On March 8, 2013, “Soup” Campbell died of cancer at age 56.
“Soup” never reached his desired height of 7-6, but he was still a giant of a man.