BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — One look around at Oakland University’s men’s basketball team and veteran Greg Kampe can see one sizable difference.
The Golden Grizzlies are not as big and built as they have been in the past.
Gone is 6-foot-11 center Keith Benson, the two-time Summit League Player of the Year who was drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Also gone is 6-9 blue-collar workhorse Will Hudson, a second-team all-league pick last season now playing professionally in Australia.
That’s the major difference to this team, where seven returnees are back along with a pair of redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen.
Oakland has been nothing short of dominant in the Summit League the past two years, going a combined 34-2 in the regular season in conference play. Both of those losses came on the road at IUPUI. The Grizzlies were 17-1 in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Including conference tournaments the past two years, where Oakland was a combined 6-0 to reach the NCAA tournament, Oakland is 40-2 against league competition.
Oakland reached the NCAA field the past two years, losing to Pittsburgh and Texas, respectively. Last season Oakland made a late comeback before succumbing 85-81 to the Longhorns in the second-round.
There’s still several holdovers from that team driven on adding to that success.
“I think this is a team that I think has a lot to prove,” offered Kampe. “I think this is a team that people are not thinking to highly of (right now).”
Kampe, in his 28th season at Oakland, has his deepest backcourt in school history. In contrast, the frontcourt is young and unproven.
“We’ll have to play freshmen (in the frontcourt),” offered Kampe.
The two redshirt freshmen that will log a lot of minutes in the paint are 6-10 Corey Petros (Utica Eisenhower) and 7-0 Kyle Sikora (Key Largo, Fla.). Both benefited from practicing against Benson and Hudson last season but are awaiting college experience against others their size.
True freshman 6-10 center Korab Imani (Peje, Kosovo) could also see minutes if he develops. Imani was a late signee after would-be 7-foot senior Ilija Milultinovic opted to forgo his final season and return to Serbia. Milultinovic was expected to be the go-to player in the post before leaving OU in June.
The backcourt is loaded with two-year guard Larry Wright the only player to graduate who saw significant minutes. Senior Drew Maynard (6-7) transferred out midway through last season and is now at Division II Valdosta State.
Senior Reggie Hamilton (Chicago Thornwood) played point most of last season after sitting out the previous season. The former UMKC transfer was chosen as a first-team all-league selection and is the unquestioned leader of this group. He is on the radar of some NBA scouts.
Redshirt sophomore Travis Bader (Okemos) turned heads by canning 44 percent of his three-point attempts last winter. He canned a league-best 94 triples, ninth-best in the nation out of competitors from over 340 Division I schools.
“The kid made 94 three-pointers last season as a freshman. How many others did that?” asked Kampe, puzzled as to why Bader did not receive any preseason recognition.
Redshirt 6-3 junior Blake Cushingberry (Romeo), who missed last season with a knee injury, and 6-2 senior Laval Lucas-Perry (Flint Powers Catholic), who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan, are both fine perimeter shooters who are not bashful to go after the ball. Both will add immediate depth in the backcourt as experienced D-I players.
Ryan Bass, a 5-11 sophomore from Dunbar, Ohio, is a lightning-quick guard who will likely see an increased role with the departure of Wright. He will back up Hamilton at the point.
Junior Drew Valentine (Lansing Sexton), a 6-5 swingman, could be the wild card if he continues to develop. Kampe feels he is one of the most well-rounded players in the entire Summit League, which remains at 10 schools with the departure of Centenary but the arrival of South Dakota.
Still, with all of the seasoned veterans in the backcourt, Kampe is surprised that his team must play the respect card this season, as the Grizzlies have not been considered a favorite despite the most dominant two-year run in league history.
“I think with us going 34-2 the past two years, I’m surprised that more people didn’t pick us to win,” offered Kampe. “I think we have a great backcourt with 6-8 guys that can play. I still think we’re going to be good.”
Even with two thirds of its roster back, Oakland was tabbed as a runner-up finisher in the Summit League to Oral Roberts, the school OU knocked out in the conference championship game last season.
Part of the optimism for Oakland is the arrival of many new faces.
A pair of true freshmen could work their way into the lineup, including 6-6 forward Dante Williams (Ann Arbor Huron), who was a state runner-up as a junior in high school. Forward Matt Poches (6-5), a rugged-type player in the mild of Hudson, could also bring in depth.
Still, outside of Valentine, no frontcourt player received any type of minutes a year ago.
Sophomore guard Jordan Howenstine (Lansing Sexton) and 6-7 sophomore forward Joey Asbury (Warren Mott) both return but are not expected to figure into the main rotation. Duke Mondy, a 6-3 junior guard, will sit out the season after transferring over from Providence.
“We have another tough schedule and then were anxious to get into conference play to see where we stack up,” said Kampe. “This team is different. We’re young in the post. But we still have a lot of talent.”
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