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2022 Michiganians of the Year

For Oakland basketball coach Greg Kampe, daily strolls offer opportunities to help others

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Oakland men's basketball coach Greg Kampe stands outside his loft in Detroit. Kampe not only has helped his players graduate, he's helped the homeless and those in need in Detroit and Oakland County. Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

Detroit — Greg Kampe, through his parents and grandparents, grew up a big fan of Detroit sports. Like so many young fans, he would fall asleep with a transistor radio tucked under his pillow listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers games. The next day, he'd have to scrounge up enough money to buy a new battery.

Still, when Kampe — who grew up, attended college and started his basketball coaching career in Ohio — took the head men's basketball coaching job at a little Division II school called Oakland in Rochester, he figured he wouldn't stay here long.

He was 28 when he got the job in 1984 and made $29,000 a year.

"No, no, no," Kampe says with a laugh. "At that time in my career, I was going to come to Oakland, win the national championship the first year, and be gone the second year."

Thirty-eight years later, Kampe, 66, is still here, trailing only Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, at 47 years, among the longest-tenured coaches at their current Division I school. Kampe moved up from third to second with the recent retirement of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

During his tenure, Kampe has been the face of a university that went from a small Division II school, to a small Division I commuter school, to a Division I school that now has a bustling on-campus community. He took the program to three Division II NCAA Tournaments and to three Division I NCAA Tournaments. He has 400 DI wins, second among Michigan colleges to Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who has 666. He has 664 wins, between DI and DII, two behind Izzo, who is one of his best friends.

Kampe has sent several players to the NBA, but most importantly to him, he's sent them to the stage on graduation day. Of more than 150 players who've played their senior year for Kampe, only three didn't graduate.

Michiganian Greg Kampe
Oakland University head men's basketball coach Greg Kampe is one of this year's Michiganians
The Detroit News

Kampe has used his public relations chops to pump up Oakland University, and also uses it for issues away from the court, including cancer research, leaning on his college coaching peers to raise more than $500,000. He's also recently developed a soft spot for the plight in Detroit, particularly when it comes to homelessness.

In the last few years, Kampe, recently divorced, moved downtown to a loft in the Cass Corridor. He loves the revitalization Detroit has gone through, particularly downtown. But on his daily walks around the neighborhood, his eyes were opened to the issues they don't mention when pumping up the city's rebirth.

"I know what it was in the 1980s, and to see the vibrant, rejuvenated city that my parents called home, that I loved, has just been special," Kampe says. "I also do a lot of walking, and that's where you walk into the downtrodden and homeless.

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Greg Kampe, on his walks in Detroit and his talks with the homeless
You see it with your own eyes, and you feel it, you talk to them, you hear their stories. It motivates you to find a way to help.

"You see it with your own eyes, and you feel it, you talk to them, you hear their stories.

"It motivates you to find a way to help." 

Kampe has been known to stop and talk to a homeless person and give him all the money he has in his wallet, then go hit up an ATM and bring back more. He's brought hats. He's brought gloves. One time, he got a homeless person a job washing dishes.

Recently, Kampe met with Lighthouse of Oakland County, which provides emergency shelter to men, women and children in need, with a goal of transitioning each person to eventual full-time housing. Kampe signed on to become a spokesperson for the organization.

Over the years, he's visited the troops overseas, worked with the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Oakland County Shelter for Women in Need, and Beyond Basics, stressing the importance of education to inner-city youth.

In 2016, Kampe was named the winner of the Sparky Anderson Community Excellence Award, through the late Tigers manager's CATCH organization.

In 2017, when he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, one of his first congrats calls was from boyhood idol Al Kaline, who later become a good friend through their membership at Oakland Hills.

Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe addresses his team during a break in practice.
Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe addresses his team during a break in practice. Jose Juarez, Special to Detroit News

Kampe likes to downplay his overall impact. He says, "I'm not the pied piper."

But he does what he can — like so many do, in different ways, he points out.

He just knows he can do more than others, making nearly $400,000 a year — a long way from the first day, which he never envisioned to lead to nearly 14,000 more days. He's had his opportunities to leave over the years, including to Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. Not for him.

"Most people have to change areas and change places, and I was able to stay at the same place and grow professionally as the community around me grew," said Kampe, who recently signed an extension that will take him into his 70s, and into the 2026-27 season.

"I don't think I would change that for anything."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

Greg Kampe

Age: 66

Occupation: Head men's basketball coach at Oakland University

Education: Bachelor's of business and journalism, 1978, Bowling Green State University; master's in physical education, 1983, University of Toledo

Family: Three adult children, two grandchildren

Why honored: For his decades of devotion to the rise of Oakland — the university and the basketball program — while stressing education, plus his work for cancer research and with the homeless.

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