From Buzzer Beaten to Gone: The Story of the 2018-2019 Golden Grizzlies

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The 2018-2019 Oakland Golden Grizzlies were a few seconds away from the Horizon League Championship. A dagger three from Drew McDonald just past the outstretched fingertips of Jaevin Cumberland ended their season. The team had already lost two players from the start of the season by that point.

Looking back less than two years later, not a single player from that team is still playing for Oakland, yet many are still playing college hoops and a few even at the Division 1 level. While we may not know why they have all left, it’s quite clear there was a problem with that team and their commitment to the school or their coach.

Let’s take a look at where they are now.

The Early Season Transfers:

Brailen Neely – He was the first Grizzly to transfer and he did it early in the season. Was it a playing time issue as he was benched for an undisclosed issue and Braden Norris took over or something more? We will likely never know for sure. There was talk of re-injuring his knee but that was never confirmed. He transferred to Wayne State where last year he was named to the All-GLIAC First Team. Neely is playing his final season this year coming in averaging 19 ppg and almost eight assists.

Jordan Nobles – The Grad Transfer from Eastern Michigan spent the first half of the season with the Grizzlies. He played in the first 11 games and started 8. While he wasn’t filling the stat sheet, he was providing solid leadership for a young team and playing well defensively on the wing. However, he did not academically qualify for the second semester. Nobles went on to play professionally in Portugal.

The Summer of 2019, When Things Started to Turn:

Braden Norris – The freshman had taken over control at Oakland. He averaged almost 36 minutes per game, ran the offense racking up 5 assists a game and seemed to be the future of Golden Grizzly Basketball. Then, his name was in the transfer portal and he was off to Loyola-Chicago. There was very little talk of why other than Kampe saying sometimes freshmen just don’t like the first college they go to. This was one of the worst transfers OU took as it set them off without a point guard the following season.

Stan Scott – Was not a big part of the equation for Oakland. He was a late signing and never seemed to have a big role for OU; was very athletic but didn’t play major minutes in his time, and an energy guy in stretches but never expected to be a big piece of the puzzle. Transferred to Divison II Missouri Southern State University where he averaged 3.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.6 rebounds per game.

James Beck – The 6-8 forward was seen as a major get for Oakland. After only two seasons, he took his game to Miami (OH). In some ways it’s tough to blame him. Beck was buried on the depth chart behind Xavier Hill-Mais and Brad Brechting. However, he seems like the kind of player that Oakland has been missing. He sat out last year and opened his 2020-2021 campaign for the RedHawks with a double double. He should be a major contributor for them in the MAC.

Jaevin Cumberland – Only a few days after Drew McDonald made the game winning three over him, Cumberland, Brechting and Hill-Mais put out a press release through Oakland saying they would all be back to avenge the loss and play out their senior season. Then, Cumberland’s name popped up in the transfer portal. He flirted with a few different high major schools but ultimately settled on Cincinnati where he joined forces with his cousin Jarron. He scored just under 9 ppg, down from 17 the year before with Oakland. While he surely wanted to play with family and be closer to home, it’s tough to not wonder if he hurt his pro chances with the move to Cincinnati for his final year.

Karmari Newman – Newman was a very late transfer at the end of the summer. While nothing official was ever released, it was clear there was more to his transfer than anything strictly basketball related. The George Mason transfer ended up at William Penn University, an NAIA school in Iowa. Last year he averaged almost 16 ppg making 108 three-pointers.

One More and Gone:

Kenny Pittman, Jr. – Pittman was another late signing for OU, and another from the Simeon pipeline after Kendrick Nunn but before Zion Young. Pittman wasn’t highly recruited, but was thought to be a shooter. However, he never found much playing time for Oakland. He did stay for the 2019-2020 season before leaving this past summer for Wayne State University. After two seasons it was clear he was not a part of Kampe’s future plans.

Tray Maddox, Jr. – The one player Oakland fans were most concerned would leave the program after experiencing so much loss in the 2018-19 season. The sophomore started 31 games and averaged 9 points per game for the 2019-2020 squad. However, it was clear at multiple points throughout the season that Maddox and Kampe weren’t seeing eye to eye. Tray was sick during the Horizon League tournament and didn’t even dress for what would be Oakland’s final game. He gambled on himself in the summer and chose Cal State Fullerton where he expects to be a focal point of the team. He wanted to have more freedom and play his style in a way Kampe would never allow. Now he will get his chance in California.

Babatunde Sowunmi – The Nigerian-born 6-10 center lasted just over two years. He was the last of the 2018-2019 team to leave Rochester as he put himself in the portal 2 weeks into the 2020-2021 season. While he had a body that Jon Rothstein described as, “looks like it was carved out of ice,” it never translated to the basketball court. Oakland coaches say he was probably the player most effected by the COVID shutdown all summer. He needed to get into the gym and develop his skills on the court but he simply couldn’t and once again was finding himself on the end of the bench for the season. Instead, he will look to take his size elsewhere.

Congrats! You Made It!

The only two players from the 2018-19 team to make it through their entire playing career at Oakland were Hill-Mais and Brechting. The two longtime bigs are actually celebrated here for doing something normally pretty common, finishing their entire eligibility with the school that recruited them. Hill-Mais would have transferred due to lack of playing time if not for a redshirt season he took to get out from under the shadow of Jalen Hayes and Brechting lost a year to injury. However, congratulations to those two, the only players from the 2018-2019 team to make it through!

It’s been well talked about that the transfer portal is doing a number on mid-major schools. But for a team that was seconds away from The Horizon League Championship game to lose that many players in such a short amount of time should be alarming.

Further, this article only chronicles the team from two years ago. It does not even factor in the additional four freshmen that transferred this past summer after only season. While there are likely ways to explain a few transfers, especially in the transfer portal era we are living in in college basketball, to try and explain an entire team being gone in two years with only two graduations is a quite possibly a bigger problem.

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