Kampe tees off on light crowd for Oakland’s Horizon win

Tony Paul

Detroit — Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe speaks his mind. It’s burned him many times before, but he just can’t help himself.

And he was back on the soapbox late Sunday night, despite basking in the glow of his team’s first Horizon League tournament victory since 2014.

His beef?

The crowd, which was on the light and quiet side during the tense, 62-55 victory over IUPUI.

“I was really disappointed in the crowd tonight. Not in the people that were here, but we filled Joe Louis Arena up last year, and we didn’t today,” Kampe said. “Maybe they were waiting to see if we were going to win.

“I hope so.”

Despite Horizon League officials saying over and over again that the future of the tournament in Detroit doesn’t rest on the shoulders of the local teams — Oakland and Detroit Mercy — Kampe has repeatedly called balderdash.

He knows the longer Oakland plays, the more tickets will be sold, and the more tickets are sold, the more money the league and Olympia Entertainment will make.

And that’s especially critical after this year, Year 3 of Motor City Madness in Detroit, as Olympia can opt out — a very real possibility.

The upper bowl at LCA is curtained off this week, and that’s understandable. It was curtained off the last two years at JLA, too. But Kampe figured his team could help fill up much of the lower bowl, and the Golden Grizzlies didn’t come close to that Sunday night. Maybe it was the fact the game was on a Sunday, a tough drawing night.

Or maybe — and this is what Kampe hopes — is that his fan base was just being cautious, given the team’s track record of early exits in the league tournament. The previous three years, it lost its first game, despite playing worse seeds.

Kampe figures last year’s exit cost the league at least 8,000 ticket sales, and maybe as much as 16,000.

“All I worry about is these guys, and I was thrilled for them,” Kampe said of his players, who’ve been consistently harassed by Horizon League crowds this season — opposing fans enjoying pointing out the Golden Grizzlies’ reputation as “chokers” in the tournament. “You just can’t understand the amount of pressure that’s been on this team.

“Don’t think they haven’t heard that from our fans, YouTube, Twitter, everything.”

Attendance for last year’s Youngstown State game — a loss by Oakland on a last-second shot — was listed at 8,481, and that seemed like a legitimate number. The crowd was raucous. Sunday’s attendance was listed around 6,000, a number that includes the entire day — which featured four games — and even then, that seemed like a stretch. This year, the Horizon League made its member schools purchase ticket blocs.

Oakland (19-13) plays Cleveland State (11-22) in Monday night’s semifinal, at 7. Tickets start at $15.