Men’s basketball preview: New faces, same goal

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Men’s basketball preview: New faces, same goal

Men's basketball player Nick Daniels is interviewed by reporters on media day.

Men's basketball player Nick Daniels is interviewed by reporters on media day.

Nowshin Chowdhury

Men's basketball player Nick Daniels is interviewed by reporters on media day.

Nowshin Chowdhury

Nowshin Chowdhury

Men's basketball player Nick Daniels is interviewed by reporters on media day.

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Here we are in the year after Kay Felder. The point guard prodigy departed for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he has since scored his first career NBA basket, but his former teammates — Nick Daniels, Jalen Hayes and Sherron Dorsey-Walker, this season’s captains — have returned to Oakland men’s basketball to continue the tradition of 80-plus points per game.

“We’re a family,” redshirt junior guard Martez Walker said. “Just ’cause he left, we’ve got to pick up from where he left off at. That’s all it is.”

Along for the journey are eight players on a roster of 16 who are either transfers or true freshman. The Golden Grizzlies are ranked No. 2 in the Horizon League preseason poll.

Last year, the chant in the huddle was “family.” This year, it’s “Team 50,” Walker said. That’s a half century of Oakland basketball.

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe has led more than half of those 50 teams. He began his 33rd season Monday, Nov. 7, in a 98-68 exhibition win against Grand Valley State University in the O’rena.

“Never gets old,” he said on Nov. 2.

Kampe said his team’s talent is deep.

“In my mind, there’s two big question marks about this team,” Kampe said. “One is point-guard play.”

How do you replace Felder, a guy who was ripe for the pros after his junior year? At first, you use three guys.

Kampe said the majority of the time, redshirt senior Sherron Dorsey-Walker, who has never played point guard, will lead the offense early in the season. The other times, the job will go to junior Stevie Clark and freshman Brailen Neely. Clark is a transfer, and he’s more like a combo than a point guard, Kampe said. Neely is a freshman from Detroit Western.

It’s no easy job to run point for the Golden Grizzlies. Kampe compared his offense to a “complicated football offense.”

He mentioned there were some doubts about his program that came out after Felder left.

“I think that really got to [the players],” Kampe said. “I think they were surprised by it. I think they’re bound to prove a point. And they should be. But when the games start, that’s all last year, and that’s all forgotten, and we’re moving forward.”

Oakland has 17 home games this season, which Kampe said is like the schedule of a high-major team.

“We thought we had a chance to get off to a great start, play a lot of home games, get the community revved, and maybe get off to a 8-0, 10-1 record when we’re going to Michigan State [on Dec. 21], and maybe then we are ranked,” Kampe said.

Kampe has two new faces on his staff after the departures of Saddi Washington and Dionne Phelps after last season. Dan Hipsher is associate head coach and Cornell Mann is an assistant. Hipsher and Mann have 52 combined years of Division I coaching experience.

“It’s amazing that we were able to put this staff together,” Kampe said.

Walker is excited.

“Just itching to play,” he said. “Just trying to build from last year.”

Walker, a transfer from Texas, didn’t play his first game until Dec. 19 of last season, but then became the Golden Grizzlies’ fifth-leading scorer with 10.5 points per game before the year ended with a 59-55 loss to Wright State in the semifinals of the Horizon League Championship and a 68-67 loss to Old Dominion in the finals of the Vegas 16 postseason tournament.

Oakland fans got a glimpse of the beast beneath when Walker cut up the left side and dunked it with 8:41 to go in the second half of the league semifinal game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The team is going to depend on that spirit more than ever this season. 

“Last year, I was still just finding my role on this team,” Walker said. “This year, the guys are just bringing me in and telling me ‘You this. You the leader.’”

There’s an added motive.

“Make my grandma happy before she leaves this earth,” Walker said.

She’s never seen Walker play a college basketball game in person.

He’s not fixated on any one opponent or player this year. He’s just focused on Oakland.

“We’re enjoying this time, we’re enjoying the moment,” Walker said. “We’re just trying to bring something special here and bring a championship home and make everybody happy.”

Clark has traveled the long road to Rochester. After being kicked off Oklahoma State in early February 2014 after his second arrest of the season, he took a year off, then began playing basketball again at Arkansas Baptist, a junior college in Little Rock.

“I had to let go,” Clark said. However, “I realized one day that I wasn’t made to quit.”

So after more than two years, he’s back playing Division I basketball. The players helped him get acclimated by notifying him that Kampe is not exactly the most docile coach in basketball come game time. But Clark has found out about more than just the man’s demeanor.

“I’ve learned a lot from Coach Kampe,” Clark said. “How to carry myself and just the business side of things that I wasn’t aware of as a basketball player.”

Team 50 is meshing, redshirt junior forward Hayes said.

“The potential is there, now we just have to reach it,” he said. “We’ve got to clean up on the defensive end as far as rebounding.”

Rebounding was Kampe’s other uncertainty of the season. Hayes was the Golden Grizzlies’ leading rebounder last season with 8.6 per game.

“It’s on me to be able to lead our team, in that category especially,” Hayes said.

He bulked up almost nine pounds to that end in the offseason.

Redshirt junior guard Daniels agreed the defensive rebounding needs some work. But so does he, according to him. When he messes up, he gets mad, when he should just move on, he said.

The biggest thing the opponents have to watch out for this year?

“Oakland,” Daniels said.