Golden Grizzlies Face Battles on their Way to Winning the War

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Senior Jon Champagne and the Golden Grizzlies celebrate
by cutting down the net after clinching  the Mid-Con title

There are battles and there are wars.

Winning the Battle of the Bulge was a step toward winning World War II for the United States. Winning the Mid-Continent Conference Championship in 1999-2000 was a battle in Oakland’s quest to win the war.

The Oakland University men’s basketball team captured the regular season Mid-Con title last year after recording a 11-5 record against conference foes. The Golden Grizzlies finished 13-17 overall with a non-conference victory over Big Ten opponent Northwestern.

"We surely haven’t won the war, we’ve won a battle," head coach Greg Kampe said. "We want to establish ourselves as a team that is going to be a good team every year. If we can do that, then we will have won the war."

The Golden Grizzlies winning the Mid-Continent Conference championship in their first year eligible may have been a bit ahead of their time, but it only leaves the doors wide open to what the future entails for Oakland basketball.

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Mychal Covington with
head coach Greg Kampe

"I think this season in the evolution of Oakland going Division I is the most critical year for us because of what we accomplished last year," Kampe said. "We won a championship and we gained a great deal of respect. Now it goes back to establishing us as a team that will be looked at every year as a contender.

"I think it is very, very important for us to have another good year. We need to come back and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and that we are capable of being a top team in this league year in and year out."

If preseason predictions are any indication of the outcome of the 2000-01 season, then the Golden Grizzlies are in for another run for the Mid-Con championship. Basketball News has picked Oakland to defend its conference title.

Winning the Mid-Con regular season championship is Oakland’s top goal in 2000-01. OU is still not eligible for the Mid-Con postseason tournament or an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament due to the move to Division I.

"This year our number one goal is to win the conference championship," Kampe, College Hoops Insider’s 1999-00 National Coach of the Year, said. "We also want to win 20 games and receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

"Starting next year our goals and the way we approach things will change. Next year our main goal is going to be getting into the NCAA tournament."

A repeat of the Mid-Continent Conference championship will rely heavily on the strengths of the 2000-01 squad. Kampe lists mental toughness, shooting, diversity and leadership as the fourth strengths this season.

"Our number one strength is mental toughness," Kampe said. "We’ve proven that we can win when we have to win and we’ve proven that we can overcome adversity."

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Dan Champagne

The Golden Grizzlies, who lost Dan Champagne (Jr., F, Linden/Linden HS) just six games into the season, won three of their conference games by three points or less and won three of their final four Mid-Con games in overtime to win the regular season championship. Champagne, OU’s top returning player in 1999-00, was injured in early December and wasn’t able to return for the remainder of the season.

"Our second strength is our ability to shoot the basketball," Kampe said. "We have some guys that can flat out shoot it."

OU was among the tops in the nation in three-point shooting and free throw shooting the past two seasons. Last year the Golden Grizzlies, who shot .409 from the field, made 271 threes (.337) and recorded a team free throw percentage of .743.

"Diversity is our third strength," Kampe said. "We will be able to put a number of players in different positions to mix up our offense and accomplish a variety of things.

"And, leadership is another strength of our program. We have a very veteran team and a ton of experience. They say that water finds its own level. I think that the leadership on this team is like that. Each player will find his own level."

Kampe returns Mychal Covington (Jr., G, Pontiac/Northern HS), Brad Buddenborg (Jr., G, Garden City/Garden City HS) and Jason Rozycki (Jr., G., Boyne City/Boyne City HS) who have been starters the past two seasons. Also returning are Dan and Jon Champagne (Sr., F, Linden/Linden HS) and Ryan Williams (Jr., G., Toledo/Start HS). Dan is a fifth-year junior, Jon is a fifth-year senior and Williams is a fourth-year junior. Dan has started all of the games he’s played in over his career and Jon has played in every game and started 17. Williams has seen action in 42 games over the past two seasons.

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Mychal Covington

With strengths always comes question marks and the 2000-01 season proves no different for the Golden Grizzlies.

"The weakness of our team last year was the inability to rebound," Kampe said. "We feel hope that we have lessened that question mark with our recruits and in returning Dan, but is it still a question.

"The second question is the position of backup point guard. If Covington goes down, what are we going to do? Myke can’t play 40 minutes a game for 40 games. How are we going to be when Cov is off the floor?"

The Golden Grizzlies will be able to play a combination of players in many positions and formations in 2000-01.

"We play a lot of combination players and we can really move people around," Kampe said. "We are going to be able to put out a small team, and we’ll be able to put out a big team ... all with different types of players.

"We are unusual. Not many teams are as interchangeable as we are and we are hard to guard because of it. That has been a benefit for us."

Guiding the way for the Golden Grizzlies as they attempt to repeat as the Mid-Continent Conference champions at the point guard position will be Covington.

Covington saw action in all 30 games and started 28 of them last year. He averaged 6.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The 83 assists he recorded in 1999-00 was second most among the Golden Grizzlies. Against Mid-Con opponents he averaged 5.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Covington’s 208 points scored was fifth on the team last year.

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Brad Buddenborg

Backing up Covington at the point guard position will be redshirt freshmen Charles Ford (Lansing/Sexton HS) and Tim Fralick (Troy/Troy HS).  Ford, an three-time all-league honoree at Sexton High School, averaged 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals per game a senior.   Fralick earned all-state plaudits at Troy High School and was named to the All-County Dream Team as a senior. He averaged 22 points and seven assists per game in 1998-99.

Seven of the 13 Golden Grizzlies will vie for time at the wing this season. Leading the way are returnees Buddenborg, Rozycki and Williams and they will be backed up by true freshmen Kelly Williams (Detroit/Martin Luther King HS), Ryan Hoover (Harrison Twp./L’Anse Creuse HS), Mike Helms (Detroit/Martin Luther King HS) and redshirt freshman Alex Miller (Edin Prairie, Minnesota/Edin Prairie HS).

Buddenborg earned All-Mid-Continent Conference first team honors after leading the team with a 17.8 points per game average in conference action. Buddenborg, a preseason all-Mid-con player, averaged 17.4 points per game overall in the 28 games he played and started in. He also led the team in field goals made (156), free throws made (107), free throw percentage (.892) and blocked shots (13).

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Jason Rozycki

Rozycki played in all 30 games and started 25 of them en route his being named all-Mid-Con second team. He finished second on the team with his 15.1 points per game average and his 3.4 rebounds per game average was fifth. Rozycki, a preseason all-Mid-con player, led the team with 239 three-point attempts and 84 three-pointers made and was second on the squad with a .351 three-point shooting percentage. His .809 free throw percentage and 454 points scored was second on the team. Against Mid-Con opponents he led Oakland with 18.5 points per game.

Ryan Williams saw action in 20 games last season and recorded 2.3 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. Ryan averaged 2.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in conference games.

Kelly Williams is a 2000 graduate of Martin Luther King High School where he led the Crusaders to the state semi-finals as a senior. Kelly, a two-time all-league honoree, was named all-district and all-state as a senior. He averaged 15 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists per game in his final season.

Hoover was a four-year varsity letterwinner at L’Anse Creuse High School where he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game as a senior. Hoover was named all-league, all-district, all-metro and all-state his senior season.

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Ryan Williams

Helms, a high school teammate of Kelly Williams, was named all-state, all-league and all-city his senior season at Martin Luther King High School. Helms averaged 21 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game as a senior.

Miller is a 1999 graduate of Eden Prairie High School where he was named team MVP as a senior. Miller broke the EPHS school record for three point percentage (.610) and stands eighth in school history in field goal percentage (.520). He averaged 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a senior.

Junior Dan Champagne (Linden/Linden HS), senior Jon Champagne (Linden/Linden HS) and true freshman Jordan Sabourin (Sarnia, Ontario/Northern Collegiate HS) will man the back to the basketball position for the Golden Grizzlies.

Dan Champagne, who will also see time facing the basket, saw action in only six games last season before injuring his hand. In those six games he led the team with a 18.0 scoring average and 6.3 rebounds per game. The 2000-01 Basketball News preseason Mid-Con Player of the Year was named to the Hawaii Pacific Thanksgiving Classic all-tournament team prior to the injury.

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Jon Champagne

Jon Champagne saw action in all 30 games last season and averaged 4.3 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game. Champagne’s .574 field goal percentage (58-101) was tops on the squad and his 83 rebounds was sixth. He played in all 16 Mid-Continent Conference games and averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Champagne shot .643 from the field during conference play.

Sabourin is a 7-0, 240-pound true freshman from Sarnia, Ontario where he played four years of varsity basketball. He was named all-city three years and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game his senior year.

Over the past couple of years, Kampe has scheduled tough non-conference opponents to prepare the Golden Grizzlies for the conference season and ultimately a trip to the NCAA tournament. OU has traveled to Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Cincinnati, Northwestern and OU’s schedule has been ranked as having the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation.

Finally this year, the scheduling cycle has returned home for the OU. Oakland will open up the 2000-01 home season against Michigan and will host Akron, Cleveland State, Ohio and Wright State in addition to the Mid-Con schools. The Golden Grizzlies will travel to Michigan State, Detroit, Cincinnati, Toledo and Western Michigan to complete the non-conference schedule.

"This is a big year for us," Kampe said. "The cycle has come full circle and we have 15 home games, which is great for us, our fans and for our record.

"One of the things that we have to do now is start winning some of our non-league games. We have to start beating some teams that are ranked ahead of us. We’ve had mild success at that, but now we have to have consistent success at that.

"One of the reasons we’ve struggled in the non-league season is that we haven’t padded our schedule, we haven’t backed down. We’ve gone and tried to play the best and we are doing that again this year. We are going to continue to schedule that way, which may hurt us record-wise, but in the long run, it will help. It was a big help in us winning the championship last year."

If Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies continue to improve on an already successful career at the Division I level, then to win another battle is well within their grasp and to win the war is in the future for Oakland basketball.

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