A familiar face returns

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From 2009 to 2013, the Oakland University men’s basketball team consistently put on the floor its best lineups in the school’s history.

All-time greats for the school including Johnathon Jones, Keith Benson, Will Hudson, Larry Wright, Reggie Hamilton and Travis Bader all took the court over those four years.  

The common denominator for those four years was Drew Valentine, frequently described by head coach Greg Kampe as “one of the best leaders I’ve ever had.” According to Kampe, Valentine brought the team together as a family.

Valentine graduated from Oakland in 2013, finishing with an 87-52 record and winning the Summit League title and qualifying for the NCAA tournament twice over his four years of play. Now he’s back at Oakland University wearing a different outfit.

It was announced last week that Valentine would return to Oakland as an assistant coach, replacing the departed Darren Sorenson.

Valentine spent the previous two seasons as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, under the nationally recognized Tom Izzo, while also getting to coach his younger brother, Denzel.

“Oakland is one of the best and most underrated programs around,” Valentine said during an interview Monday.

“MSU is a little more on the national level than Oakland,” Valentine said. “Izzo is about as respected of a coach as there is in the country. Seeing it and experiencing the grind every day taught me a lot about how to run a program.”

He intends to bring that mentality to Oakland.

“When I was here before, we got after it,” Valentine said. “I didn’t really take days off. We pushed each other and held each other accountable.”

He emphasized the family mentality that the team had during his four years. He said he still connects regularly with Bader, Hamilton, Jones and others from those teams.

Valentine said his favorite memory at Oakland was the week of the 2011 Summit League championship and the subsequent NCAA tournament game against Texas.

“It’s something you dream of, watching basketball your whole life, being able to cut down the nets,” he said.

With regards to his new program, coach Valentine has big plans.

“This is the most talented team since my sophomore year here,” Valentine said. “If we can stay together and hold each other accountable, and have good leadership, we will go far.”

Valentine talked a lot about the emerging leadership of junior point guard Kahlil Felder, saying that he believes Felder has the potential to be an All American and lead the team to an NCAA tournament bid.

His long-term goals are lofty but Valentine has proven to be tenacious.

“My goal is to be a head coach,” Valentine said. “I’d love for it to be here. I have a vision for what I think is the perfect program and hopefully one day I can make that happen.”