Oakland coach Greg Kampe says Oakland and Detroit should play every year, but haven't since 2003. (Al Goldis / Associated Press)
Rochester — It seems like ages since Detroit and Oakland played a basketball game against each other.
And that just didn’t seem right considering one team (Detroit) is the only Division I program in Wayne County and the other (Oakland) the only Division I program in Oakland County.
But for the first time since Dec. 3, 2003 — a 76-60 Detroit victory — the teams finally will play again at 7 tonight at Calihan Hall.
“It’s a game that’s long overdue,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “If they win by 30 points or we win by 30 or if they win at the buzzer, it doesn’t matter. The game should have been played every year.”
And now, they’ll play at least twice a year after Oakland was admitted into the Horizon League last July 1.
Kampe believes the fans from both schools, and basketball fans in general, will reap the benefits of the renewed rivalry.
Many of the players on both teams played at high schools in Metro Detroit. For example, Detroit Pershing High graduates Juwan Howard Jr. (Detroit) and Kahlil Felder (Oakland) are expected to start.
“It’s going to be fun, going back there,” Felder said. “I’m definitely comfortable at Calihan. It’s a good gym to play in. It’s a shooter’s gym.
“My family will be there. I’ll have a lot of support. It’ll be special. It’s my home.”
Detroit coach Ray McCallum said the game will do much to increase exposure for both programs.
But he also hasn’t lost sight of the significance of playing a league opponent at home.
“It’s about the conference,” he said. “If you’re going to be successful in the league you have to win at home.”
Both could use win
Detroit and Oakland are coming off league losses, and a victory tonight would do more than provide the winner a reason to boast. It could be the game that determines whether either will be a contender or an also-ran.
Oakland (6-12 overall, 1-2 Horizon League) was picked to finish fourth, but its roster took a hit before the season started. Four players who were either expected to start or see significant playing time won’t play at all: Ryan Bass, a part-time starter a year ago, left school for unspecified reasons; center Raphael Carter had hip surgery; freshman Nic Daniels (Westland John Glenn) suffered a broken foot; and freshman Jalen Hayes was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
That leaves Kampe with 10 players, eight on scholarship.
“We’re an injury from saying, ‘What about next year?’ ” Kampe said.
Detroit (8-9, 1-1) was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league after losing four starters who were the heartbeat of a team that won the league title two seasons ago and reached the NIT last season.
“We lost over 60 points with the players who left the program,” McCallum said. “We’re trying to educate our guys on what it takes to compete in this league.”
The Titans have played better than many anticipated, and perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of senior Evan Bruinsma. A role player throughout his career, Bruinsma is second on the team in scoring (12), first in rebounds (8.4), second in blocks (15), third in assists (34) and fourth in shooting percentage (44.8).
Bruinsma, Kampe said, is a coach’s dream.
“He’s what seniors become,” Kampe said. “He’s the player coaches love to coach. He went from not playing to being a role player to being a stud. And he’s a great student. He’s what you want every kid to be. “