The Golden Grizzlies set their sights on March
Oakland is coming off of another season with the same old story: A hot start in conference play, followed by a last season collapse and an earlier tournament exit than anticipated. Last year, that exit was at the hands of the Northern Kentucky Norse, the eventual tournament champs. In fact, this was the third year in a row the Golden Grizzlies saw struggles in February, with their season ending at the hands of the tournament champion in March.
So how do coach Greg Kampe and the squad get over the hump late in the season? Look no further than the construction of the roster.
“You gotta get old, and you gotta stay old. And when we did that,” Kampe said of the offseason.
Part of the Golden Grizzlies age comes from returning players, with Blake Lampman and Rocket Watts entering their 5th season, and Trey Townsend and Chris Conway entering their 4th.
“I feel good about our leadership. It has been a while since we have had three and four year guys in the program,” Kampe continued.
“You’ve gotta feel good about where we are at.”
It is not all about the returners though, especially today in college basketball. There seem to be impact transfers littered throughout the Oakland roster.
On the wing, two snipers joined the fray in Jack Gohlke and DQ Cole. Gohlke fits the mold of being an elder statesman, entering his 6th year of being in college basketball, after 5 seasons at D2 Hillsdale, while Cole comes over from nearby JUCO Henry Ford College. Each guy has good size and has put up extremely efficient numbers from beyond the arc, something the Golden Grizzlies have been missing on the team in recent seasons.
Also entering the program is a trio of guys who all attended Garden City Community College. Tone Hunter is a point guard who comes to Oakland by way of Long Beach State, Buru Naivalurua is an uber-athletic forward who will compete for big minutes in the frontcourt, and Aundre Polk is a 6’9 big who made the All-Freshman team in the MAC at Central Michigan before joining Garden City. All three have talent, and if any of them can put it all together, it will massively help this Oakland team.
There may not be a superstar in the group of newcomers, but with a talent already on the team like Townsend that was not the need. The Golden Grizzlies have had plenty of stars in recent years, but what they have lacked is roster depth, something that late season injuries in the past have only exposed exponentially worse.
“One of the things we tried to accomplish is to add more depth,” Kampe said. “We believe we can go 10 or 11 deep, where in the past few years we might’ve been able to go 6 deep.”
Kampe has always liked to whittle down the rotation as the season wears on, but the thought of having guys ready on the bench who are ready and able to contribute excites the longest tenured D1 coach in the country.
Guys like Junior Osei Price and Detroit transfer Isaiah Jones are two wings that have already had success at the D1 level, and are going to be counted on at some point during this season.
Defensively, Oakland struggled last year. This year, they will look to the size of the newcomers to help bring more disruptiveness to the zone defense that Oakland has adapted in the past couple of years.
The new guys will also need to help out on the boards, as Oakland really struggled on the defensive glass last season. The emergence of a returner like Conway, combined with new guys like Naivalurua and Jones will be keys going forward on whether or not Oakland can shore up its rebounding issues.
Getting older, adding more depth, adding more shooting, and cleaning up the rebounding struggles were what Kampe says were the main goals over the summer in recruiting. And he likes how the roster turned out.
“We think that we put a dent into the three areas that kept us from being a champion,” Kampe said.
Oakland has been as consistent at being in the mix as any program in the league, but the biggest prize has eluded them to this point. If the breaks fall their way, this roster shapes out as one that can have the Golden Grizzlies in the right position to accomplish their ultimate goal come March.
Guard Rocket Watts
Guard Blake Lampman
Guard Jack Gohlke
Forward Trey Townsend
Center Chris Conway
Guard DQ Cole
Forward Buru Naivalurua
Guard Tone Hunter
Forward Osei Price
Forward Isaiah Jones
Center Aundre Polk
Next In Line
Forward Cooper Craggs
Guard Mike Rogers
Guard Evan Solomon
Forward Zavier Banks
HoriZone Roundtable Prediction
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Preview Week Recap Part 1 | Preview Week Recap Part 2