Who does Oakland bring back?

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Courtesy of TZR Sports

Oakland fans. It’s officially time to look ahead.

This doesn’t mean you can no longer watch the replays of that tournament run, or scroll through comment sections of those few March days anymore, but the roster for next year is almost ready whether you are ready for it or not. As it seems to happen everywhere in college basketball, the roster has been flipped upside down in the past month. Jack Gohlke, Blake Lampman, and Rocket Watts used up their final years of eligibility. Trey Townsend and Chris Conway fulfilled their four year commitments, graduated, and will be exploring new journeys for their extra year, while being compensated *very* nicely.

Some other departures, such as Tone Hunter and Osei Price, leave the team coming off a round of 32 appearance looking extremely different. While Oakland looks to fill up its remaining available roster spots, the deadline to enter the portal has come and gone. Although there will be plenty of fresh faces next year, there are still some familiar friends who have stuck it out through portal season, and will once again don the black and gold. 

So who is left? Let’s take our first look ahead at the returning pieces for the 2024-2025 Golden Grizzlies.

While five of the top six scorers depart, including the top four, Oakland should still feel good about the core they were able to retain.

It begins with DQ Cole. Cole enters his final collegiate season as the leading returning scorer on the team, coming off a campaign where he averaged 8.7 points per game. He also grabbed 4.2 boards per game and dished out 2.1 assists per game. In conference, those numbers went up to almost 10/5/2.5, all as the fifth option on the floor a lot of the time. Of course, he was not your typical fifth option. Cole put up 14 games of 10 points or more, including a 20-point, 5-board, 4-assist masterclass in the Horizon League semifinal. His performance against Kentucky was obviously notable as well, scoring 12 points, pulled down eight rebounds and posted four dimes. Oh by the way, he made the biggest most iconic shot in school history to sink the Wildcats late. Moving to his more natural position as an off ball guard this next year, combined with the departures, should allow for an offensive explosion from Cole. He should be in the running for an all league team, if not more.

Also returning is Isaiah Jones. Jones came off the bench the first two games of the year, then turned himself into the everyday starting small forward for the Golden Grizzlies. His presence was mainly felt on the defensive side of the floor. Jones fit in perfectly at the top of the Oakland zone, and should thrive in that role with a year of experience now. He also grabbed 4.2 rebounds a game, which was second on the team, behind Townsend. He was almost never asked to score, but still put up five points a contest, which included some big performances. A 16-point, 10-rebound double-double against Marshall stands out, as does his 14-point, 9-rebound game against IUPUI. An ankle injury prevented him from having the impact he would’ve had in the postseason, but his body of work throughout the regular season shows Oakland he will be a solid piece to the puzzle that will be next year’s rotation.

The other returning contributor is Buru Naivalurua. Like Isaiah, Buru was never asked to have a featured role offensively, and his numbers reflect that. His 3.3 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game appear to be nothing to be wowed by, but looking deeper there are plenty of reasons to be excited. Playing behind Chris Conway and Trey Townsend, combined with missing weeks of practice time as the season began, never allowed the full potential of Naivalurua to be reached. When he played over 20 minutes (5 games) he averaged 6.4 points per game, 1.8 blocks per game, and 8.8 rebounds per game. Up to the two games he played 30+ minutes (at Milwaukee and his only start of the year at IUPUI), those numbers became 9.5/10.5/3. Buru led the team in blocks anyway last year, but an expanded role could provide some fun rim protection for Oakland, as well as some highlight finishes offensively.

Cooper Craggs returns for his third year in the program, but is still potentially under Freshman eligibility. A multitude of injuries this past season should provide a medical redshirt opportunity for Craggs, after a redshirt his first year. Cooper only played in three games this season, with his only points coming off a basket at Dayton, so there isn’t much to go off of in terms of on the court production. The only time we saw Craggs fully healthy on the court these last two years he grabbed eight rebounds in Oakland’s exhibition loss against Walsh. It remains to be seen what he can provide in a real role, but there could be an opportunity for Craggs to grab some minutes in the front court with a new look on the way

Zavier Banks is coming off a redshirt campaign. The forward has good size, and like Craggs, dealt with injuries all last year. He has some tools, and had a front row seat to learn from Trey Townsend and Blake Lampman on how to go from off scholarship, to star over a career. He will look to crack the rotation this upcoming fall. 

If Oakland is to come close to repeating last year’s success, the returning pieces will likely play a massive part in it. Particularly looking at Cole, Naivalurua and Jones, they will have their off court leadership leaned on, as the program sees its longtime leaders move on. While that is the case though, Greg Kampe, the rest of his staff, and the fanbase should feel good about the crop of talent that has been retained.

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