An athletics program, how do you define it: the program, the people and the name, Oakland University Golden Grizzlies? It has been built, year after year, by not just one person but by many who bleed black and gold for their university.
Oakland University was founded in 1957 by Matilda Dodge Wilson and the original team mascot was the ‘Pioneer’. In 1998 the mascot was changed to the ‘Golden Grizzlies’ when Oakland made the jump to division one with the mantra of “new division new name” and it has stuck ever since. If you look back at the history of Oakland Athletics and how as a mid major it has come to relevance, there is always one person to come back upon and that is Men’s Basketball Head Coach Greg Kampe. Greg Kampe has been at the helm for the Men’s Basketball program for 35 years and counting, and he is one of the main reasons Oakland has put their name on the map.
Every mid major has their sport that they are good at; for Xavier it is basketball, for Boise State it is football. Oakland has been to not one, not two but three NCAA tournaments in the last 15 years, in 2005 and 2010-11 respectively. For a mid major program that just reached division one status in 1998 that is pretty impressive.
For freshman guard Tray Maddox Jr. a native of Novi Michigan, he knew that picking Oakland was the best chance for him to make it to the league (NBA).
“From an athletic standpoint, I have started to progress and I just wait my time,” Maddox said. “My mom and dad always said just trust the process and through the Oakland program I’m just trying to be the best I can be.”
For other guys who have been here for a long time like one of the team captain’s Jaevin Cumberland who has been at Oakland for four years now as a Redshirt Junior. His perspective on Oakland basketball and his coaching staff has progressed over the years and gave this one word on the culture of the program.
“Tough... From the coaches position, we have a lot of coaches in here that know what they’re doing and have a lot of wins with final fours and it’s been positive for us [The Team],” Cumberland said during an interview after practice.
Toughness is what defines this program, and it is what defines all of Oakland Athletics as a whole. Toughness on the field, court or track and toughness in the classroom has made Oakland into the powerful mid major they are now. Men’s Basketball is not the only successful program at Oakland, there are many other sports that make rumbles throughout the Horizon League and the NCAA as a whole. Oakland Swim and Dive men’s team has won a remarkable 40 straight league titles and the women’s team is right behind them with 24 straight. Track and Field/Cross Country have started to make some headway under new director Paul Rice. Both Men and Women’s Cross Country teams claimed a Horizon League title last season. Oakland Men’s Soccer has also appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2014 and 2015 and was ranked nationally this past season. All of these programs have began a winning tradition at Oakland, a tradition instilled by Greg Kampe, the basketball program and the work they have done for the Golden Grizzlies.
From Oakland’s days in the Summit League where they played rivals such as Oral Roberts University and Valparaiso University, to today’s time where Oakland takes on a tough Horizon League, Oakland continues to move up the mid-major ladder. The Horizon League is one of the tougher mid-major divisions with powerhouse programs such as Northern Kentucky and Wright State. Oakland is now entering its sixth season in the Horizon League and they have already gained impressive accolades and honors.
There are few people who know more about the basketball program and athletics program at Oakland as a whole then Coordinator of Athletic Communications Max King.
“I think the culture here is a successful winning culture,” King said. “I think what a lot of people might not understand is how Kampe is so invested into the success of the players long term, specifically with their academics.”
The work that Kampe does with his student athletes and the work of the rest of the coaches across the athletic programs is recognized year after year. Oakland has won four straight McCafferty Trophies in the Horizon League which is an award bestowed upon the program with the most combined points at years end. Those points are a combination of athletic and academic achievements. After last season, Oakland became the third best program in Horizon League history with it’s fourth McCafferty titled which ranks just behind Oral Roberts and Notre Dame who hold seven titles a piece.
“...he [Kampe] has graduated almost every single four year player he has had, a lot of college basketball coaches will say and try to emulate it but it is one thing to say and another thing to do it” King said in an interview overlooking the O’rena blacktop.
Once more, we have to look back on how this winning tradition and “tough” culture has been brought upon the entire program by the basketball program. The iconic O’rena is one of the only arena’s in the world with a blacktop surface and is recognizable by most basketball minds in the country. The O’rena is sold out for most men’s basketball games and it is the sport that garners the highest average attendance than any other sport at Oakland. When people think of Oakland, people think of the basketball program, the O’rena and Coach Kampe. All of these things combined are the reasons why Oakland has not just become a name known in the state of Michigan but a name known around the country.