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Oakland preview: Grizzlies out to prove naysayers wrong

By Jim Spadafore, Special to The News

Rochester — Oakland University has added incentive for the upcoming Horizon League basketball season.

Of the nine teams in the league, the Golden Grizzlies were picked to finish eighth in a poll among coaches, media and staff.

"That's disrespect," said Kahlil Felder, a 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard from Detroit Pershing. "We have to prove people wrong."

Most of the Oakland players are using the low team expectations as motivation. This lack of respect is something new for the Golden Grizzlies, who are in their second year in the Horizon. Last year, the Grizzlies finished 7-9 in the conference (tied for fifth place) and 13-20 overall.

In prior years, Oakland was very successful in the Summit League, winning two of the last four league tournament championships and automatic bids into the NCAA tournament.

But the Horizon is quite a bit tougher, so Oakland has to make its mark in this league.

"We tend not to look at the preseason poll too much, but we do look at it like a slap on the wrist," said 6-10 senior Corey Petros from Utica Eisenhower. "We just have to make our mark."

While the Horizon coaches and media aren't expecting too much from the Golden Grizzlies, the Sporting News predicted Oakland will finish fourth.

"We're going from a league, which was ranked 19th or 20th in the country to the Horizon league, which is ranked about 12th," coach Greg Kampe said. "But that's what we wanted.

"Right now we're an afterthought in the league. But we can't get upset about that. We have no history in this league. We have no respect. But over time we have to earn respect.

"And we want this new challenge. The Horizon League put a team in the NCAA championship two of the last five years. Who would have thought Butler (which is now a member of the Big East Conference) could get to a title game. Butler did it twice. In the Horizon League you can do that."

Much of the Golden Grizzlies chances for a successful season falls on the shoulders of Petros and Felder. Petros, who averaged 13.3 points and led the league in rebounding (8.2 average) last season, was selected to the preseason first team.

Felder, who was named freshman of the year after averaging a league high 6.4 assists along with 9.5 points, was voted to the preseason second team.

Last season, the Golden Grizzlies relied heavily on Travis Bader, the NCAA record setter in 3-pointers with 504. This season Kampe expects Felder to average 18 to 20 points along with 6-7 assists and Petros to average a double double.

"We have size and athleticism and we can really score," Kampe said. "But right now we can't rebound well or defend. And we have to play more intelligently.

"But I like our potential. Corey is an old fashioned Piston Bad Boy. He's very physical. He's poised to have a big year. And we're expecting big things out of Kahlil too. Last year Kahlil was a secondary scorer who's main job was to set up Bader and Petros. Now we want Kahlil to score and setup his teammates."

Max Hooper, a 6-6 junior transfer from St. John's, replaces Bader at scoring guard. Hooper shot 40.3 percent (25 of 62) from three-point range in his final season there. Kampe said he wants Hooper to attempt about 10 3s a game.

"Oakland has always had a history of 3-point shooters," Hooper said. "That's one of the main reasons I wanted to come here. But the most important thing is winning."

Winning is going to be extremely hard in nonconference games. Oakland opens Nov. 14 at No. 14 ranked Iowa State. Then there's a stretch of five consecutive road games against Michigan State (Dec. 14), Arizona, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Maryland.

That's a definite wake up call for a young Oakland team with four of its top eight players freshmen or sophomores.

"This schedule is like none we've ever had," Kampe said. "We play six consecutive games at home (Nov. 19-Dec. 3) early and then we go on the road. Playing those big name schools on the road is the reason the players want to come here and play Michigan State or play at Arizona and Iowa State. The players want to measure themselves against the best." And earn a little respect.

Oakland

Coach: Greg Kampe (519-386, 30 seasons).

Last season record: 13-20 overall; 7-9 (tied for fifth place) in the Horizon League.

Notable losses: Michigan State, 67-63; North Carolina, 84-61; UCLA, 91-60; Gonzaga, 82-67.

Notable newcomers: Max Hooper, 6-6 junior transfer from St. John's; Nick Daniels, 6-1 redshirt freshman guard from Westland John Glenn; Jalen Hayes, 6-7 redshirt freshman forward from Lansing Sexton; Femi Olujobi, 6-8 freshman forward from Long Island, N.Y.

Best nonconference game: Dec. 14 at Michigan State.

Outlook: If Oakland can stay healthy without a rash of injuries like last season and improve its defense and rebounding, it can be a big surprise. Corey Petros and Kahlil Felder are two of the top five players in the league. Junior forward Tommie McCune, a returning starter, and junior transfer Max Hooper should contribute a lot.

Jim Spadafore is a freelance writer