Future outlook for OU’s basketball team

For Oakland University, the 2009-2010 men’s basketball season was a record-breaking one. The team won 26 games, captured their second Summit League tournament championship, and was rewarded with a 14 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

They lost that game to a physical University of Pittsburgh team, but the future remains bright for head coach Greg Kampe and his team.

Obviously, there will be player movement within the program. Next season, OU will be losing two program-altering players.

The Grizzlies will have to deal with the departures of seniors Derick Nelson and Johnathon Jones. Both players put up record numbers in their years at Oakland, but it was also their leadership and will to win that helped propel the Oakland program to new levels.

Junior Keith Benson is arguably the biggest key for next year’s Oakland team, with his post presence not only bringing statistical success but also diverting attention from the opposing defense, opening up teammates on the offensive end.

The 6’11 junior has played his way onto NBA mock draft boards as a potential late first round or early second round pick.

The Farmington Hills native has not said anything about his decision to declare for the draft, but has spoken about what he wants to work on to raise his game to the next level.

“I want to work on my strength in my legs and my jump shot and some post moves and just strength overall and conditioning,” Benson said.

Benson could also be a player that steps into the leadership role left by Jones and Nelson, as he became increasingly vocal on-court during the last few games of the season.

Junior Will Hudson will also prove helpful for 2010. The 6’9” forward scored in double figures just four times this past season, but it was his defense and rebounding ability that proved most valuable to the team. He also played center at times when Kampe went with a smaller lineup.

Filling out the key bench players are sophomores Blake Cushingberry and Drew Maynard. Both players showed improvement on the defensive end of the court while maintaining an ability to provide a spark on offense – Cushingberry with 3-point shooting and Maynard with explosive leaping ability.

Looking to fill the point guard role is junior Reggie Hamilton. The 6’0” guard, known more for his scoring ability during his two seasons at UMKC, has practiced with Jones the entire season working to become a more complete point guard.

Oakland has also received a verbal commitment from Ryan Bass, a 5’11” point guard from Dunbar H.S. (OH). Bass is a scoring point guard with tremendous speed, quickness and athletic ability. He has also shown the ability to elevate over defenders and make jump shots.

A potential leader and go-to guy on the 2010-2011 squad could be junior Larry Wright. Wright was a part-time point guard at times this season, but his greatest strength is his ability to stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting.

Two players that will factor into the future of Oakland’s basketball program are freshman Ledrick Eackles and Drew Valentine.

Eackles has proven to be a tenacious defender, constantly yelling and harassing players on the defensive end.

While posting up and overpowering other guards in the Summit League, Eackles has shown that he can score in the league. There was a stretch this season in which he scored 10 or more points in six of seven games, including a career-high 20 points versus UMKC.

With Nelson as the team’s starting small forward, Valentine received sporadic minutes but played hard-nosed defense and seemed to be everywhere on the court when he played, allowing him to excel in multiple categories on the stat sheet.

“We’ve got a lot of good players coming back, but we lose two great leaders,” Kampe said. “This offseason, we’re going to have to figure out how to make up for that.  But talent-wise, I feel really good about our talent.”