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Greg Kampe said it's happened before, but it's ridiculously rare.

When a player transfers from one school to another and has to sit out a year because of NCAA regulations, it's typically a feeling-out period for the new player and his new teammates. They work out more in the weight room, they play big roles on scout teams, they cheer from the sidelines for home games and from afar for road games. But they're usually not that vocal.

Because, not playing, they often don't feel like a fully vested member of the team.

But that wasn't the case in 2016-17 with Kendrick Nunn, the former Illinois star guard. He may be a man of few words to the press, but he had no issues speaking up when the time was right.

And he often picked the perfect time. Like ...

"After we had that tough loss to Cleveland State (on Jan. 16), we were getting ready to get on the bus to go to Northern Kentucky, which was a big game for us," Kampe said. "And he sent a text to the team, right as we were getting on the bus, and I'm paraphrasing here.

"It was, 'If y'all are too scared, if you're not ready to do something, then stay home with me and don't go.'

"He timed it as we were getting on the bus. 'If you don't have the courage, then don't get on that bus.'"

Nunn, as a transfer, couldn't travel to road games, but his message was huge that night.

Oakland, coming off an ugly loss to a bad Detroit Mercy team and then the Cleveland State debacle, both at home, bounced back to beat a very good Northern Kentucky team. And while that was followed with two more losses, the Golden Grizzlies then closed the season on a nine-game winning streak to win their first Horizon League regular-season championship.

Nunn didn't score a point or take a shot, but the impact was there. And Kampe was mightily impressed.

In his more than three decades at Oakland, Kampe said he's had two transfers take on roles like that during sit-out seasons -- one was guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker, coming over from Iowa State, and now the man who will replace Dorsey-Walker.

"Kendrick was every bit as strong as Sherron was during Sherron's sit-out year," Kampe said. "I could see Kendrick stepping forward and being the leader of the team.

"Kendrick comes in as a guy who is tough, who wants to win -- who really wants to win, and a kid that is gonna push everybody."

And that's ideal, given the lofty expectations for Oakland this year. It lost just one senior, Dorsey-Walker, from a team that went 25-9 -- with a serious hiccup in a loss to lowly Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament opener, but also a gutsy win over Clemson in the NIT -- and this year will have six seniors, with Nunn taking center stage.

High expectations

Nunn, a Chicago native, played three seasons at Illinois, where he made the Big Ten All-Freshman team, averaged 11.1 points as a sophomore and 15.5 as a junior, despite missing some time that final season following thumb surgery to repair a ligament.

He had high hopes for his senior season, but an incident following his junior year changed all that. He got into an altercation with a woman and was accused of hitting her, pushing her and pouring water on her head. He was kicked off the team last May, after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Nunn started looking at other options, and Oakland ended up atop his list -- and after some due diligence by Kampe, who has been known to give kids a second chance (like senior-to-be Martez Walker, Texas), the coach extended the invitation.

"Just the coaches, for real," Nunn said, when asked why he picked Oakland. "The relationship with Coach Kampe. I talked to Kampe, the other coaches that were here. I think it was a good program. I was watching them play before I came here.

"I thought it was a good program."

It's not the Big Ten, where, at Illinois, Nunn never made the NCAA Tournament, but instead some NITs.

But for a mid-major, Oakland continues to gain cache, and this year's team could be among the best Kampe has had since taking over as head coach in 1984.

Some coaches downplay expectations, so not to put undue pressure on a bunch of college kids. Not Kampe. After two very upsetting first-game losses in the Horizon League tournament, the first two in Detroit no less, and without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, this is a big year. His athletic director has said it, and Kampe has said it, and the kids know it.

"You know, in 2011, the team had the highest expectations going into the season of any team I've had," Kampe said. "We had lost to Pittsburgh (in the 2010 NCAA Tournament), and we had Keith Benson back, we had Reggie Hamilton becoming eligible, just like Kendrick becoming eligible. It's very similar to that season."

That 2009-10 team set the program record with 26 wins.

That 2010-11 team made it to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament.

That era put Oakland basketball on the map, and set the standard for the program. Anything shy of NCAA Tournaments aren't acceptable, at least not to a growing fan base. That 2011 run was the program's last NCAA Tournament. Since, Oakland has made five postseasons, including three CITs, the one and only Vegas 16 (only eight teams actually played) and, then last year, the NIT. Extra games are all fine and dandy, but anything shy of March Madness in 2017-18 and it'll be an even bigger letdown than the last two years.

"It's the reality. I can sit there and say the sky is red, but it isn't. It's blue," Kampe said. "You can sit there and try to fool people or you can just own up to it. Yeah, you're damn right we think we're gonna be really good.

"I believe that, so why wouldn't you own up to that?"

Nunn knows all that, and believes all that -- and said he'll bring aggressiveness on offense and defense.

And, if Oakland's offensive history is any indication, a whole lot of points.

‘On everybody's radar’

Oakland often pursues transfers, but it's not common to go after a transfer with just one year of eligibility left. After all, as Kampe said, in that scenario, you're paying two years of scholarship for one year of play.

He did it a few years back when he welcomed Detroit native Percy Gibson back to town from Iowa State, because big man Corey Petros was about to graduate. And last summer, he knew Dorsey-Walker's time was coming to an end, and he needed a replacement there.

The fact he landed Nunn, though, was a real coup -- as the second Big Ten transfer he can recalling getting, after Laval Lucas-Perry (Michigan).

Kampe has been talking to NBA scouts, who have been insisting to him that Nunn, 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, has serious potential to be a first-round NBA Draft pick in 2018. That would be a first for Oakland, which has had two draft picks, both in the second round, and most recently Kay Felder in 2016.

"He's definitely on everybody's radar," Kampe said. "Adding that to a team that won 25 games, that has everyone back but one player, and slipping into Sherron's spot, he fills the void Sherron left. It's very exciting."

Oakland returns its two leading scorers, guard Martez Walker (17.8) and forward Jalen Hayes (15.9), who's also its top rebounder (8.0). Transfer Stevie Clark, a guard, has a year in the system under his belt, guard Nick Daniels might be ready to emerge beyond his solid sixth-man role, and forward Isaiah Brock was surprisingly impressive on defense as an old freshman following a five-year stint in the Army. The Golden Grizzlies also landed an impressive freshman recruit, power forward James Beck, from Grand Rapids Christian.

Otherwise, this is a veteran team, as veteran as it gets in college basketball these days -- with the five impact seniors being Nunn, Walker, Hayes, Daniels, Clark. But they all have different personalities, Kampe said.

It's clear that Nunn's stands out, which is just what Nunn intended. He's got those scars in his background, from that unceremonious departure from Illinois, and he wants to move past all that -- and he knows one way is to show he's a leader.

Yet, unlike most transfers, he simply refused to wait until he got on the court to show it.

"Leadership is very important," said Nunn, as is winning -- which is in his pedigree, too, with four state titles in high school. "Being vocal on the court."

That's Nunn. Short and sweet, to the point, at least to the press. He saves his words for his new teammates, who already feel like old teammates.

Get to know Kendrick Nunn

Position: Guard

Age: 21 (Aug. 3, 1995)

Height/weight: 6-3/184

Hometown: Chicago

At Illinois: In three seasons, he scored more than 1,000 points, including averaging 15.5 points and 5.0 rebounds during his injury-plagued junior season. With the Illini, he shot 42.4 percent, including 37.9 percent from 3-point range.

At Oakland: Sat out 2016-17 because of NCAA transfer regulations, but emerged quickly as a vocal leader for a team that finished with 25 wins, tied for second-most in program history.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984

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