Blend Of New Players Is The Right Mix For Oakland

At the start of the 2002-03 basketball season, head coach Greg Kampe had one major question facing him and the rest of the Golden Grizzlies: how to replace four starters from a team that had won a school Division I record 17 games the year before. Only Mike Helms was returning from that team, and only a couple of other players with significant playing time would be adding to Helm’s experience.

Rawle Marshall was named both the Newcomer of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Mid-Con, finishing among the nation's leaders in steals per game.

Oakland did have hope in the presence of a pair of transfer players, Rawle Marshall from Ball State and Cortney Scott from Iowa, but how they would respond to playing at Oakland on a new team was anybody’s guess. As it turned out the input of players was the right mix for OU as the Golden Grizzlies matched their previous season's record of 17 wins, going 17-11 overall and finishing 10-4 in Mid-Con action to tie for second place with IUPUI.

It did not take long for Golden Grizzly fans to see how Marshall would respond. Eligible at the start of the season, Marshall showed the OU fans what he had in the season opener against Spring Arbor. He led the team with 29 points and completed a double-double with 10 rebounds, adding four assists and five steals in the 107-72 season opening win.

Marshall continued to impress in the early going, scoring 21 against IPFW and 20 more against Akron in the second and third games of the season. The fourth game was the Golden Grizzlies’ first major test of the season at its first road game against Texas A&M of the Big XII conference. After 11 lead changes and six ties, OU came close to pulling off an upset of the Aggies, but they fell victim to poor foul shooting at the end and dropped a 75-69 decision to fall to 2-2 on the young season. Marshall once again showed that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with, getting a school record 10 steals at Texas A&M, a mark that would stand the rest of the season as the most for a Division I player during the year.

Showing that last season was no fluke, Mike Helms continued his scoring prowess at the start of the season, personally keeping Oakland in the game at Texas A&M by pouring in 31 points.

Scott got his chance to show his skills when he became eligible in the sixth game of the season at Bowling Green. While his offense was still a bit rusty, he pulled down 11 rebounds in his first outing, flashing the rebounding ability that would wind up leading the Mid-Con at the end of the year.

Despite the play of Helms, Marshall and Scott, Oakland had problems finding its rhythm at the start of the season. The Golden Grizzlies were up and down, not winning or losing more than two in a row through Christmas.

Going into a holiday tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Golden Grizzlies still had to find that right mix. Helms did his part in a 91-88 win over Texas Southern, an eventual NCAA Tournament team, pouring in 43 points. The game raised his scoring average to over 29 points a game, placing his name among the national scoring leaders, a place that it would stay for the rest of the season.

A loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the championships game, however, started OU on a skid that would see it lose three straight and five of its next seven, its toughest stretch of the season. The Golden Grizzlies fell to Jacksonville State at home and then to Illinois on the road, keeping OU winless away from the O’Rena in ‘02-03. Oakland came back to defeat Youngstown State, 75-70, but then faced the start of the Mid-Con season with three straight on the road.

Mike Helms set a new school record with 752 points on his way to earning All-America status and Mid-Con Player of the Year accolades.

Oakland dropped the conference opener at IUPUI, a 96-82 setback that saw the most points that OU would allow during the season. Next it was off to Kansas City for a meeting with UMKC and its high-scoring guard, Michael Watson. Helms won the match-up with Watson, outscoring him 39-25 and leading Oakland to its first road win of the season, 86-65.

Oakland followed that up with a loss at Oral Roberts before bouncing back to take a 75-62 win at home over Western Illinois, putting OU at 2-2 to start Mid-Con play. That brought Valparaiso to Rochester, the only Mid-Con team that OU had never beaten since joining the league.

In a close game, Oakland held a 70-67 lead with 30 seconds to play, but the Crusaders pulled it out with a pair of free throws in the final seconds to take a gut-wrenching 72-70 win.

Oakland could have let the loss set the tone for the rest of the season, but instead the Golden Grizzlies used it to inspire them for the rest of the season. In its next outing OU bounced back from the disappointment behind 31 points from Helms to win a rematch with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 87-74.

That win would be the first of many down the stretch for Oakland, as the Golden Grizzlies reeled off six straight wins that brought them back into contention for the Mid-Con title. Helms was the catalyst in the stretch, averaging 31 points in the seven wins and not getting slowed down until he was held to seven points in a loss at Valparaiso.

The Golden Grizzlies again bounced back from a Valpo loss, taking the last three games of the season to reach the 17-win mark for a second straight year. In the season finale Helms scored 42 points against Southern Utah, making it 13 games during the season in which he scored at least 30 points.

Unfortunately for Oakland, the 2003 Mid-Con Tournament was much the same as the 2002 version, with the Golden Grizzlies getting upset in the first round as the No. 3 seed. This time it was Southern Utah that pulled off the upset, holding Helms to eight points in a 66-55 loss to the Thunderbirds that ended OU’s season at 17-11.

 Cortney Scott had a big impact in his first year as a Golden Grizzly, leading the Mid-Con in rebounding.

Despite the loss, it was another season of success for Oakland. Helms finished as the third leading scorer in the nation and was named OU’s first Division I All-American as well as the Mid-Con Player of the Year. Marshall, the conference steals leader and a top-10 scorer, was also a first team All-Mid-Con pick and was the Newcomer and Defensive Player of the Year. Scott was a second team All-Mid-Con selection and led the league in rebounding in his first season. And, in contrast to the start of the 2002-03 season, the 2003-04 season will start with all of Oakland’s principal players back, a fact that bodes well for the future of Golden Grizzly basketball.

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