Oakland coach Greg Kampe talked to The News following a morning shootaround Saturday at Little Caesars Arena, ahead of Sunday night's Horizon League tournament game against IUPUI. Tony Paul, Detroit News
Detroit — There’s something about this Horizon League tournament that brings out the best in the local guys.
Last year, it was Flint’s Cameron Morse who had his coming-out party, scoring 34 in Youngstown State’s stunning upset victory over top-seeded Oakland.
On Day 1 this year, it was Novi’s Kameron Hankerson who put on a show in a 93-81 victory over Detroit Mercy on Friday at Little Caesars Arena. Hankerson scored a career-best 36, making seven ov nine attempts from 3-point range.
Three of Hankerson’s 3’s came in a huge stretch in the second half, after the Titans had tied the game after trailing by as many 21 in the opening half.
“It’s always good to watch guys develop and evolve,” said Detroit Mercy coach Bacari Alexander, who saw some of Hankerson on the recruiting trail, especially during his days as an assistant at Michigan.
“The thing you are most compelled by is just a young person’s ability to get better not only over the course of his career, but in the season. The three games we played, the first time out, he didn’t do much (four points). The second time, he showed some signs of life (12 points). And (Friday), he was an absolute outlier.
“He deserves a lot of credit.”
Hankerson, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore, wasn’t recruited much out of high school.
Green Bay coach Linc Darner called him the summer prior to his senior years, when he already was getting set to take visits to Northern Illinois, UIC and IPFW.
He took the visit to Green Bay, was offered on the spot — and soon after, he committed to wearing the green and white of Green Bay, after wearing the green and white of Novi.
“I felt like, just go where you’re loved,” Hankerson said. “I liked the way he spoke to me. He had a lot of confidence in my game.”
Darner said he first caught a glimpse of Hankerson during a tournament in Milwaukee. Still, he didn’t hold out much hope of landing the big man with a shooter’s tough, because it’s tough to get a kid from Michigan, with all the closer collegiate options.
Darner credits assistant Randall Herbst, as well as a friend from Metro Detroit who first tipped him off to Hankerson, for helping get the deal done.
Hankerson played sparingly as a freshman, with Green Bay a veteran team a year ago. This year, he’s been leaned on to do much more, and he never did more than Friday, which put the seventh-seedeed Phoenix (13-19) into Saturday night’s 5:30 game against second-seeded Wright State (22-9).
“The thing I liked about him, he fits our style,” said Darner, in his third year as Green Bay head coach. “He’s 6-4, 6-5, can play multiple positions, handles the ball and shoots the ball, a good athlete, and he comes from a great family and he’s a great kid.
“He’s done a great thing, and he’s really progressed as the year went on.”
JACKSON OUTSHINES MORSE
The most-thrilling game on Day 1 on Friday was the last game, a 72-71 victory by No. 8 Cleveland State over No. 9 Youngstown State.
Leading the way for Cleveland State was senior guard Kenny Carpenter, a former Detroit Cass Tech star who scored 22, the most points he’s scored in a month-and-a-half.
“Playing in front of family, it’s just great,” Carpenter said. “It feels really good — a really good feeling.”
A homecoming game like this one can go one of two ways. Either a player can rise to the occasion, like Hankerson earlier in the day and Morse last year, or he can put too much pressure on himself and struggle.
Still, Carpenter’s coach, Dennis Felton, didn’t worry much about that before the game.
“If you play a game like this and a guy like Kenny jumps up and has a poor game, you might say, I wonder how much he would’ve been pressing,” Felton said. “But going into the game, I didn’t spend much time thinking about that sort of thing.”
Carpenter outplayed Morse, the Youngstown State senior from Flint Carman-Ainsworth who stole the show a year ago.
Morse finished with 13 points, and was just 1-for-9 from 3-point range, that 3 not coming until late in the game. Morse also had a chance at a winning shot, but missed a contested floater as time expired.
Morse’s 3, a bank shot with 10 seconds left, did give him 232 3’s, tying the Youngstown State record.
Morse averaged 15.4 points this season, down from 22.9 this season. That’s because early in the season, for the benefit of the team, the 2 guard had to switch to point guard when Francisco Santiago went down with an ACL tear.
“They were running mates, they fed off one another,” Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “So Cam goes to the point-guard position. That’s hard to do, but he accepted it. He knew we needed it.
“He’ll very deeply be missed.”
Calhoun was mighty impressed with the inaugural tournament at LCA.
“We’ve got something special,” he said. “This is a top-three venue in the entire United States. You look at Little Caesars, you look at Barclays (in Brooklyn), and you probably look at the Garden (Madison Square Garden, New York).
“We’re very fortunate to be in this league and play in this venue. It’s been amazing to see it develop.”
This is Year 3 of a five-year contract for the men’s tournament to be held in Detroit, though there is an opt-out after this year if Olympia Entertainment decides to move on. The women’s tournament is in Year 2, and is on a year-to-year basis.
... Veteran local radio announcer Denny Kapp was on the microphone for the Detroit Mercy men’s game Friday, following the death of play-by-play man Cliff Russell last month. Before the Detroit Mercy-Green Bay game, a moment of silence was held in honor of for Russell, who died at the age of 61 of a heart attack.
... The men’s final Tuesday night will be broadcast on ESPN.