Oakland Primed For A Run At Mid-Con Title

After five seasons of Division I play Oakland University would seem to have just about completed its basketball resume. In its first five years of playing at the top level of NCAA basketball, the Golden Grizzlies can point to a lot of success in that short amount of time, posting back-to-back 17-win seasons and never finishing below .500 in Mid-Continent Conference action. Oakland has captured one regular season Mid-Con crown, had a least one All-Mid-Con player each season and has knocked off a pair of Big 10 schools (Michigan and Northwestern) in its Division I era. At this point about the only thing that is missing from the resume is a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The 2003-04 season could be the one to complete the Golden Grizzlies resume.

Last season Oakland wound up with a 17-11 record, finishing at 10-4 in Mid-Con play to tie for second place with IUPUI. Despite a first round upset loss to Southern Utah at the Mid-Con Tournament, the Golden Grizzlies were the hottest team in the conference at the end of the season, winning nine of its last 10 regular season games. Beginning his 20th year with Oakland, head coach Greg Kampe will have the luxury of returning virtually his entire team intact. The Golden Grizzlies will be well equipped in 2003-04, returning the Mid-Con’s top scorer, rebounder and defender.

At the beginning of last season, Oakland returned just one of its top five scores to the team and still managed to put together a 17-win season. Things are just the opposite for the upcoming season, with the Golden Grizzlies returning seven of their top eight scorers and all five starters from the final half of the season. That should ensure that OU could again put up some impressive offensive numbers after finishing last season at No. 23 in the nation in scoring average with a mark of 78.8 points per game.

“On paper we have gone through the transition (from Division II to Division I), had a lot of success and built for the future,” says Kampe. “We believe that we have the ability and the talent to win a league championship and the conference tournament. Those are our goals; there is no question that this season is the time to do it. We have everything that you need to win.”

Mike Helms, the nation's leading returning scorer, was named the Mid-Con Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-American in '02-03.

Once again the team will be led by one of the top players in the nation, senior guard Mike Helms. He placed his name on the national stage a year ago, flirting with the national scoring title before finishing third with his 26.9 average, a number that has him as the top returning scorer in the nation in 2003-04. All Helms did a year ago was score over 30 points 13 times, with a season-high of 43 against Texas Southern. The Mid-Con Player of the Year, he became Oakland’s first men’s basketball All-American when the AP named him to the honorable mention team.

Standing only 6-0, Helms is a leading candidate for the Pomeroy Naismith Award as the top senior in the nation standing 6-0 or less. He is already ninth on Oakland’s all-time scoring lists and is among the top-10 in several other categories, including free throws. An inside-outside threat, Helms’ drives to the hoop give him ample opportunity to score from the charity stripe, as evidenced by his school and Mid-Con record 196 free throws a year ago. He is also more than an offensive threat on the floor, finishing among the OU leader’s last season with 111 rebounds, 56 assists and 40 steals.

Probably the biggest weakness to the Oakland game a year ago was the lack of a true point guard. A pair of freshmen played most of the minutes there, but no one on the team averaged more than three assists a game. That need was addressed in the off-season when OU signed DeMarcus Ishmeal. A junior college transfer from Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, he led the Bears to the national championship last season, averaging 8.7 points, 5.9 assists and 3.4 steals. Already penciled in as a starter, he will provide Oakland with a player that can push the ball up the floor and run the offense.

Back for his second year in the program will be Pierre Dukes, who took over at point guard mid-way through the season, helping Oakland to a 10-4 record in his starts. He finished second on the team with 71 assists and led the squad in assist/turnover ratio with a 1.97 mark. He also showed a talent for three-point shooting, hitting 26 long-range shots while averaging 5.5 points a game. His solid play and experience from a year ago will provide the Golden Grizzlies with a solid player that can play at either guard position.

The addition of Ishmeal to the lineup will allow 6-7 junior Rawle Marshall to move to the swing position for Oakland, a position that will allow him to fully make use of all of his skills. Last season Marshall emerged as perhaps one of the top all-around players in the league in his first season. He finished second on the squad in scoring and rebounding with his 18.1 and 6.6 averages, but his defensive skills are where he made his mark. The Defensive Player of the Year in the Mid-Con, Marshall finished sixth in the nation in steals, averaging 2.9 per game. He set a new school record with his 80 thefts, including swiping 10 at Texas A&M, the most in the nation last season. He also showed a penchant for blocking shots, tying the school mark in that category with 41.

Rawle Marshall was the Mid-Con Newcomer and Defensive Player of the Year in '02-03. His 10 steals at Texas A&M were tied for the most in the country last season.

Another first-year player that made a splash last season for Oakland was Cortney Scott. All he did in his first year with the Golden Grizzlies was lead the Mid-Con in rebounding at 8.7 per game while averaging 14.5 points and finishing 28th in the nation in field goal percentage with a .570 mark. At 6-6 and 260 lbs., Scott is an imposing presence for Oakland at power forward where his size and agility make him one of the top players at that position in the Mid-Con. He also displayed a well-rounded game last season, handing out 61 assists in addition to being a terror on the boards.

One of the team’s three seniors, Kelly Williams has proven to be one of those players that can fill any role asked of him. After starting during the first half of last season, he moved to being Oakland’s top sub off the bench and averaged 3.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game. He also has the ability to step out and take the long-range shot, canning 17 treys last season. His experience and rebounding skills will give Oakland a versatile player that will give the team leadership and quality minutes under the basket.

Oakland could be especially strong at center, with a pair of experienced players returning and one coming off a red-shirt year. Senior Jordan Sabourin started 20 games for the Golden Grizzlies last season, averaging 2.2 points and 3.8 rebounds a contest. While he does not put up big offensive numbers, his seven-foot presence in the lane gives Oakland another shot blocker on the floor (17 last season), complicating opponent’s offenses.

Sophomore Shawn Hopes showed some flashes of impressive play last season in the paint, averaging 3.4 points and 2.8 rebounds while adjusting to collegiate play. He shot over 56 percent from the field and has worked hard during the off-season to improve his game, one that has the potential to place him among the top big men in the Mid-Con in the future.

Cortney Scott also made an impact in his first season with Oakland, leading the Mid-Con in rebounding.

Another hard worker all of last season was redshirt-freshman David Ritzema. He spent his redshirt year working to improve his post game and should provide Oakland with yet another capable inside player. As a senior in high school Prep Spotlight tabbed him as the most improved player in Michigan after averaging 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

Oakland landed another solid recruiting class this past year, dipping into the Detroit Public School League for all of its talent. Derrick Coleman comes from Denby High School and is a 6-7 swing player that will provide the Golden Grizzlies another tall, lanky player on the wing in years to come. Coming from the same high school that produced Helms and Kelly Williams, Martin Luther King High, is Courtney Williams. At 6-9 he will provide OU with a multi-faceted player that can play on the perimeter with his shooting and ball handling skills. Also from Martin Luther King HS is Curtis Gilmore, a 6-1 guard. A similar player to Helms, he averaged 15 points a game as a senior and was selected an all-city player.

A noticeable change from a year ago is the schedule, one that is much tougher than a year ago. Oakland will open the season at the Black Coaches Association Classic, a tournament that included three teams with post-season experience from a year ago, including host Xavier. The Golden Grizzlies will also host Missouri and Texas A&M while traveling to take on the likes of Cincinnati, Michigan, Memphis and Detroit. “Our non-league schedule is going to be very difficult this year,” says Kampe. “We are playing some of the best teams in the country and it should help our RPI. We are doing it (the difficult schedule) because we believe we have a good team and have a chance to go to post-season play.”

All the pieces for success are in place for Oakland for the 2003-04 season, at this point only time will tell if those pieces will fit together for a Mid-Con championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.

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