Tough Schedule Will Challenge Young Squad

There is both good news and bad news for the Oakland men’s basketball team as it prepares for the 2004-05 season; it’s seventh as a Division I program. The good news is that the Golden Grizzlies have turned their program into one of the most respected in the Mid-Continent Conference in their short time at the Division I level. In four seasons of eligibility for conference competition Oakland has already won one regular season title and has won more Mid-Con games than any other school in the conference during that time except for Valparaiso. The bad news is that going into this season Oakland has just four returning letterwinners back from last year’s squad to work with.

In other words, youth will be the hallmark of the Oakland basketball team in 2004-05. With only four returning players with experience, head coach Greg Kampe and his staff will have their work cut out for them as they will be forced to rely heavily on a cast of new faces to play some important roles on this season’s squad. Looking at the roster Oakland has three seniors, but no juniors; the rest of the team will be made up of sophomores and freshman, only one of which has seen action prior to this season.

Not all is bleak for the Golden Grizzlies, however, as they try and rebound from a disappointing 2003-04 campaign. The three seniors that do return are all starters and are arguably among the best players at their positions in the conference. Starting his 21st season at Oakland, Kampe’s extensive experience will also be a plus for OU. At the start of the 2002-03 season Oakland found itself in much the same position it does this season, with just one starter and a team full of inexperienced players, but Kampe turned that team into a 17-game winner, matching OU’s mark for the most wins as a DI program.

Rawle Marshall was among the Mid-Con's top scorers last season and is a two-time all-conference selection.

Probably the most obvious loss to the team for the 2004-05 season will be that for the first time in four years there will be no Mike Helms in the lineup for the Golden Grizzlies. His 2,000+ points will be missed, but Oakland does have options to fill his scoring void.

Tops on that options list is senior Rawle Marshall, a two-time All-Mid-Con performer. One of the top all-around players in the Mid-Con, he is already a 1,000-point scorer for OU in just two seasons of play and averaged over 17 points a game last season, second on the team and among the top-10 in the conference. The 6-7 swing player is equally skilled on both ends of the court and finished among the team leaders in every category that is tracked. Offensively he has the ability to slice to the basket for easy scores or he can take the long-range jump shot for a trey. His shooting numbers improved greatly from his sophomore to his junior seasons and another improvement this year could have him as much of a scoring threat as Helms was and place him among the contenders for Mid-Con Player of the Year.

On the defensive end of the court there are not many better than Marshall in the conference. The league’s defensive player of the year as a sophomore, Marshall is already among OU’s all-time leaders in both blocks and steals and holds the single-season records in both of those categories. He regularly draws the top defensive assignment for Oakland and his ability to cause turnovers on the defensive end of the floor should lead to fast break opportunities for the Golden Grizzly offense.

Joining Marshall for his final season and providing the Golden Grizzlies with a potent 1-2 punch is Cortney Scott, also a potential All-Mid-Con player. He has proven himself as one of the top post players in the conference over the past two seasons, earning All-Mid-Con honors once and leading Oakland and finishing among the league rebounding leaders in each of those seasons. Already agile for a player of his size, Scott has shed some weight in the off season and should be even quicker this time around.

With his soft touch around the basket (career .543 shooter), Scott will provide Oakland some inside scoring punch. His 36-point, 21-rebound game last season against Saginaw Valley State showed what kind of numbers he is capable of putting up, and for Oakland to be successful this season more double-double efforts from his post position will be needed. His ability to find the open man from his post position is also an asset for the Golden Grizzlies; he has been among the team leaders in assists in each of his two seasons, averaging 2.5 a game for his career.

Cortney Scott's career .543 shooting percentage will give the Golden Grizzlies a strong inside presence.

A troublesome position in the past for Oakland has been at point guard. DeMarcus Ishmeal was brought in last season from Mott Community College, where he helped that team to a national junior college title, to fill the void. Finally taking over as a starter in the final half of the season, he showed that he is capable of handling the job, taking some of the pressure of handling the ball off of Marshall. Despite starting only half the season, Ishmeal still led the team with 83 assists. The majority of those, 53, came in 15 Mid-Con games, an average of over 3.5 a game and among the league leaders. With only 40 turnovers, his assist/turnover ratio was an impressive 2.08, third best in the Mid-Con.

A player who could prove to be a key component to the lineup, especially early in the season, is Pierre Dukes. With two years of experience under his belt, his knowledge of the OU system will be a valuable asset as the young team matures. He can play at either guard position and has the ability to bury the three-point shot. He has 18 career starts and has the ability to come up with a big scoring game, as evidenced by his 17-point outing at Western Illinois last season.

Entering the season as Oakland’s top candidate at center is sophomore Dave Ritzema. At 6-10 he is the tallest player on the Golden Grizzly roster and could see his playing time increase this season with continued improvement in his play. After redshirting his first season at OU, Ritzema provided some solid minutes off the bench last season. With an accurate jump hook shot, he shot over 53 percent last season, he could provide OU with another scoring option around the basket. He also showed last season that he could become a capable rebounder, pulling down a total of 17 boards in the two regular season games against Valpo while scoring six points in each of those contests.

A group of five first-year players and one redshirt freshman will round out the remainder of the team. Kris Krzyminski joins Oakland from the junior college ranks, coming to the Golden Grizzlies from Mott Community College where he was a teammate of Ishmeal’s for a season. An outside shooting expert, he will be expected to step in and contribute from the start with his long-range shooting ability. He will have three years of eligibility with Oakland after averaging over 15 points and three assists a game in his one season at Mott where he was an all-region player.

Oakland had a solid recruiting class, getting a couple of standout players from Michigan and another from Indiana. Leading the group is Patrick McCloskey from Marshall, Michigan. A first team all-state player from the Class B ranks in Michigan, McCloskey is a 6-7, 230-lb. power forward with ball handling skills that should see a lot of playing time. A 1,000-point scorer at Marshall, he averaged over 20 points a game in his final two seasons for one of the top Class B teams in the state. He is also a solid rebounder, averaging over 10 a game as a junior and senior, plus he possesses solid ball handling skills for a big man.

Brandon Cassise and David Carson are OU’s other two recruited freshmen. Cassise, who is a local player from Walled Lake, Michigan, was regarded as one of southeastern Michigan’s premier marksmen from long-range during his senior season at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s where he averaged over 17 points a game. Twice last season he hit for over 30 in a game and he will provide another long-range scoring option for OU. David Carson, from Merrillville, Indiana, was an all-area player at Andrean High School, averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. At 6-7 and 225 pounds he will give the Golden Grizzlies some much needed depth in the post.

After sitting out last season as a freshman, Derrick Coleman spent that time honing his game and should be ready to show what he can do at the Division I level. A tall, athletic player, he will add his name to the mix at a wing position.

With a lot being expected of the new faces on this season’s roster, the newcomers will not have much of a chance to do much learning on the job, as the schedule that faces Oakland in 2004-05 is one of the toughest they have faced as a Division I program. The schedule could be called “Big”, as in Big 10 and Big XII, as the Golden Grizzlies will play a total of five games against teams from those two conferences. Last season Oakland had one of the top non-conference schedules in the nation and this season will be no different, with the likes of Xavier, Illinois, Michigan State, Missouri, Texas A&M and Kansas State on the schedule. In addition to the Big 10 and Big XII, the schedule also includes games against teams from Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 and the MAC before the Golden Grizzlies tackle the always challenging Mid-Con schedule. A highlight of the home non-conference schedule will be an early meeting with Marquette, the first appearance by a Conference USA team at the ‘O’Rena.

There are many questions that will need to be answered early for Oakland in 2004-05. The Golden Grizzlies’ three returning starters are among the best in the Mid-Continent Conference, and their leadership will be invaluable to the team in the tough early season schedule. If Kampe can find the right mix and chemistry on the squad and the new faces are able to withstand that tough schedule and find ways to contribute, the Golden Grizzlies could surprise a few people in 2004-05 and compete for a top spot in the Mid-Con race.

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