Men’s basketball coach sinks 500th win

Coach Kampe during the early 90s. (Photo courtesy of the Kresge Archives.)

Consistency is the hallmark of success.

That motto is what Oakland University’s men’s basketball head coach Greg Kampe has preached during his 29 years at the helm of the program. The four-time Summit League Coach of the Year has seen great success, most recently recording his 500th career victory Saturday with a 67-60 win over Western Illinois.

Despite chalking up yet another accomplishment, Kampe did not celebrate the distinction of becoming only the 21st active Division I coach of the NCAA to reach the milestone.

“All that it means is I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve had great players and tremendous coaching staffs, that’s how you win,” Kampe said. “When I’m old and spitting in a cup, I’ll look back at the day and say ‘Wow, that was great to win in front of a full house on homecoming.’”

The coach attributes a family atmosphere as one of the biggest reasons for his own achievements and the progress the Oakland program has seen under his tenure. He takes pride in seeing his kids succeed on the court, and especially off it. Nearly 30 players have gone on to play professional basketball after wearing the black and gold, but countless others have gone on to accomplish things outside the sports realm.

“The successes that they have in life I feel good about because I felt that I played a little bit of a role in, and that’s the most important thing here,” Kampe said.

Reggie Hamilton is one of the former players who owes much of his current success to Kampe’s instruction. Last season, Hamilton led the nation in scoring while running the Oakland offense. He now plays professionally in Italy.

“I am truly happy for Coach,” Hamilton said. “He coaches with a passion and the man knows his stuff. I am honored and thankful to have played for him.”

 The road to 500

While many coaches have earned 500 victories, Kampe is one of the few to have earned each one under the same banner.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve been able to stay here and create relationships, and feel very good about those,” Kampe said. “I think the most important piece for me is that all of those are Oakland wins, all with Oakland kids and coaches, and maybe we’ve helped to make Oakland a better place.”

Of those 500 wins, one that stands out for many Golden Grizzlies fans is when OU upset then No. 7 Tennessee in Knoxville in 2010. Kampe’s squad followed that with another victory over the Volunteers the following season, in front of a raucous O’rena crowd.

Bruce Pearl was the head coach of the Volunteers for both of those contests, seeing Kampe’s handiwork firsthand.

“Greg is one of the best offensive minds in all of college basketball,” Pearl said. “He had a very special rapport and relationship with his players in the freedoms he allows them, yet they are very disciplined. They have a great understanding in what he wants, and a great confidence in what he does.”

Boasting upsets over BCS schools such as Tennessee and Oregon and six Summit League titles, it would be easy for Kampe to be labeled as a ‘mid-major powerhouse’ and be content with that. However, Oakland’s leader dreams bigger, wanting one day to be equal with a school such as North Carolina.

“Everyday we work to be the best that we can be, and you never want to put limitations on your program,” Kampe said. “I don’t want to be Gonzaga, I think that’s a great story, and so is Butler, but I want to be the best. That is what we strive for.”

While Oakland is not yet on equal footing with the Tar Heels — their coach is aware of the Golden Grizzlies. North Carolina head coach Roy Williams praised Kampe on the victory.

“Greg is a great coach and has done marvelous things with the Oakland program,” Williams said. “We played in the NCAA tournament in 2005 and his team was really prepared to play us and played very well.  Congratulations, Greg on 500.”

As congratulations from Williams and countless other coaches, players and media members have poured in, Kampe has kept to the mindset that every win is important, regardless of the number attached to it.

“I can’t focus on that, I’ve got a job to do, and that is to make team 46 the best it can be,” Kampe said. “I’m just happy I have a chance to go get 501.”