Have to Win the Portal

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“The Transfer Portal is ruining college athletics!”

“Who is in these kid’s ears helping them make these choices?!”

“They took a visit to where? Why?”

The transfer portal is well documented and the Horizon League is no different. We have seen everyone from stars to end of the bench guys hitting the portal hoping to find a new home and a new opportunity. A lot of different things can factor into a kid leaving. Coaching changes, perceived minutes, being closer to home, being further away from home, weather, it can all be a factor.

However, the portal is not going away anytime soon and this is part of the climate of college athletics now. And there’s a new mantra many teams have.

You have to win the portal.

You are going to lose kids. You are going to sign new ones. At the end of the day, as your new season can be seen in the distance, you need to be able to say that despite the rollercoaster of an offseason that your team is better than it was the year before. Win the portal.

Oakland University has been no stranger to losing players they likely saw as part of the future of the program to the portal. However, how those have worked out of the players have largely gone in Oakland’s favor with many of those players entering the portal a second time after just a year or two at their new stop.

And despite those players who have left, Greg Kampe and his staff have found ways to put good teams on the floor that can compete. This past season, they had one of the strongest mid-majors in the nation for much of the season until injuries and a lack of depth derailed the season and they fizzled out in a quarterfinals loss to eventual champion Wright State.

Last year, with the addition of Horizon League Player of the Year Jamal Cain, it was largely thought that the Grizzlies won the portal.

If they won the portal last year, then saying they won the portal again this year seems like an understatement.

The first part of winning the portal is keeping as many pieces as possible. Oakland managed to keep Jalen Moore for another year despite many assuming he would go pro. He put out a “thank you” tweet early in the offseason that read like a goodbye. Coach Kampe spoke with him about it and told him if he wants to recruit good players to Oakland they’re going to need know Jalen is returning. Jalen put out a tweet a few days later announcing his return. With him back, Oakland only lost one eligible member of it’s rotation to the portal in 6-6 wing Micah Parrish. While disappointing as he was a key piece to Oakland’s funky zone defense at the top, it was also not a surprise to many as he left for the warmer weather in San Diego. Outside of Parrish, the other pieces of last years squad to hit the portal were either injured or never used in Zion Young, Emmanuel Newsome, Mason Gibson and walk-ons Ty Wyman and Peyton Mele.

Enter onto the Blacktop Lorne Bowman, a transfer from Wisconsin who wanted to be closer to home, Keaton Hervey, a Parrish replacement with one year of eligibility left out of Missouri State, and Rocket Watts from Michigan State/Mississippi State.

With Bowman, the Golden Grizzlies get a former ESPN Top 100 recruit and 4 star recruit who played one year at Wisconsin, and really it was only 22 games before heading back to Michigan. The 6-2 guard out of Detroit will likely provide some depth at PG behind Moore while also seeing some time at the off guard. Much like Moore he’s a playmaker who can score the ball and will have the keys to the car next year. This year he gets to learn the system and still make meaningful contributions which has to make Kampe excited not only for this year but the future. While in the transfer portal era he has said never looks too far into the future it seems likely he will be a big piece of the puzzle going forward.

Hervey became a necessity for Oakland with the departure of Parrish. Hervey is a 6-7 wing out of Texas and was a 3-star recruit out of high school. He has bounced around a bit in his college career starting at Incarnate Word playing for one season before redshirting his sophomore year. After two years there he jumped to New Mexico Junior College for one season where he upped his production including making 45 3 pointers en route to a 15 ppg average and a first team selection in the conference. His year in New Mexico lead him to two years at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference. He started every game for MSU in 20-21 but would leave the team in January of 21-22. While he has shown that he can score at this level, he is going to have one more opportunity this year at Oakland to put it all together and show scouts that he can be a professional basketball player. He is athletic and can shoot. Oakland will also look for him to fill gaps with his long reach the way Parrish has the past two seasons on the defensive end.

Back in 2018 before committing to Michigan State University, Watts changed his Twitter profile to something not a lot of people expected. A picture of him shooting wearing an Oakland Basketball shirt.

While Watts would eventually sign with Michigan State as expected, it was a sign that he had a good relationship with the Oakland program. A 4-star recruit and the No. 33 player according to ESPN out of high school, he went on to a great first year with the Spartans. Fresh off winning the Gold Medal with the U18 US team, Watts really turned it on as the season came to a close due to COVID finishing with almost 19 ppg in his last few Big Ten games on the shortened season. On the season he averaged 9 ppg and a couple rebounds.

However, going into his second year, coach Tom Izzo asked him to take on point guard responsibilities which seemed to stall his progress a bit. He still showed offensive prowess on a few occasions though while trying to learn to have the ball in his hands more often. However at the end of that season he hit the portal and landed at a different MSU, Mississippi State. He was limited last year after having hip surgery shortly after arriving in Mississippi.

With the departure of Ben Howland, Watts left Mississippi and came back to Michigan to wear the Golden Grizzly again, but this time for real. With Moore and Bowman ready to run the point, look for a healthy Watts to show his athleticism and scoring ability in the Horizon League. He will have the ability to dominate and take over games if he continues to be healthy. By all accounts, Watts has received eligibility for this season but does need a waiver to be eligible and we have not seen anything official on that yet from the university.


2022-2023 expectations:

The Oakland backcourt is stacked and could be in the discussion by mid season as a top 20 backcourt in the nation. Not only does Oakland have Moore, Bowman and Watts but you add to that Osei Price, Blake Lampman, and highlight reel dunker and redshirt Darius Sherman. That’s a possibility of 6 capable guards spread over 2 or 3 guard positions. That will equal depth that Oakland does not often have and struggles to utilize. How will Kampe and his staff make use of all these guards? The biggest change is you can expect to see “Old Oakland” which was known for running up the floor, scoring a lot, and a lot of possessions. Their goal will be to get the ball up the floor in 3 seconds, no more walking it up and being methodical as we have seen in the past few years.

The weakness for this team will be size. It seems as though neither Chris Conway or Will Shepard are ready to play big minutes in the front court right now. This will mean seeing a lot small ball with either Trey Townsend or Hervey trying to guard down low. While Townsend has shown the ability to hang with the trees down low and sporting a nice 80’s style inside game, he’s still very undersized for it. You may also see transfer Choul Deng finding some minutes down low or even freshman Cooper Craggs. There’s going to be minutes available if any of them can show the staff they are ready for more time. The ability to grab rebounds will also be something to watch. Greg Kampe has already said that rebounding will be a weakness due to the lack of size so seeing who is able to crash the boards on both ends will tell a lot about the success for the season.

The last change you can expect to see from Oakland is less or maybe even none of their zone defense they have been using the past few years. It was put in 2 seasons ago out of necessity after losing practice time to COVID, but it has become a part of the team since. However, that zone tends to slow down the offense and with Kampe looking to push this season, it may be used less or not at all. The benefit to the zone though is it will makeup for the lack of size defensively. Having Townsend or Hervey trying to matchup with a 6-10 big is a tall task, pun intended. It’s something the staff is going to have to really think about and prepare.

As is the case most years, it’s an Oakland team you can expect to be in the mix at the end of the season. They have some great games on the schedule including Oklahoma State in the Orena as well as a matchup with Eastern Michigan that will pit Rocket Watts against Emoni Bates, a matchup nobody would have thought possible in that gym only 2 years ago. If they can stay healthier, utilize their guard depth and run teams out of the gym, they have a chance to be a very good Horizon League team and once again compete for a conference championship.

Oakland won the portal and have put together a great roster. Can they do what they haven’t since joining the Horizon League and finally make a trip to the NCAA tournament? Those are the wins that Oakland fans are really looking for.

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