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Inside look at high school and Oakland University sports from Oakland Press sports writer Dave Pemberton.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Summit League teleconference

The Summit League media teleconference was today and some interesting comments came out of it. The most interesting was Oakland coach Greg Kampe’s reaction to the preseason poll, where the Golden Grizzlies were picked to finish third behind Oral Roberts and North Dakota State. Kampe prefaced his statement by saying the preseason poll means nothing, but said it was not what he expected.

“I’m a little bit surprised by it because I think the people that do this, I think they take it seriously and I think they are honest people that take it seriously and try to do the right thing,” Kampe said. “I’m a little surprised we were picked behind North Dakota State when we finished ahead of North Dakota State last year and we have five starters back, so do they, we beat them both times we played them, albeit very fortunately we beat them.

“I was expecting to be picked first or second. We weren’t so that surprised me. But like I said I don’t really care or think it means anything. We were picked first a few years ago and finished seventh. I think the year we won it, we were picked fifth or sixth. The reality of it is it doesn’t mean anything.”

Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton also said he was surprised his squad was picked to finish first.

“We don’t have a lot of depth, but this team has potential,” Sutton said. “I think I said it last year, I probably sound like a broken record, but last year I thought our team would be very good by January and February, and we were. This year I feel the same. I think by the time we get into conference play in January this can be a team that contends. I was a little surprised, listening to Greg about the preseason rankings, I was very surprised that we were picked first just because of all the newcomers we have. I do believe by January or Febraury this could be a team that, if we play well down the stretch, can contend for a conference championship.

There were several other interesting comments made from coaches across the league. I have read a bunch of preseason magazines and Internet reports on the league, but found it more interesting to hear from the coaches, who have started practice, talk about their teams. With that in mind I have complied some of the quotes from what I think are the top five teams in the league in Oakland, North Dakota State, Oral Roberts, IUPUI and IPFW so fans can get a little more knowledge on the teams. I have included some of my thoughts on what the coaches said. My thoughts are in italics. Hope you guys enjoy it.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe
Kampe on Johnathon Jones and Erik Kangas
They are good players. They have scored a lot of points for us. They are in a situation where we have a chance to be pretty good. They are looking forward to the season. It’s great to have players like, especially a kid like Johnathon Jones run your team. From a coaching standpoint you are excited when you have good point guard play and we think we have great point guard play. It’s an exciting factor.

Johnathon Jones in my mind has a chance to be the best player in the league. He can pretty much do everything you want a point guard to do. He can pass, defend, shoot and run the offense. Also I’m interested to see a healthy Erik Kangas. He gained a lot of respect from me as far as toughness by coming back from a broken collarbone last year. I can only imagine the pain he was in at points of last season. He really turned it on against Western Illinois in the tournament and showed what he can do when he gets hot. I look for more of that from him this season.

We have all five starters back and we have Will Hudson back, who started three or four games for us last year. Our frontline, Dan Waterstradt is a 6-foot-10 kid that played a lot for us last year, Keith Benson is a little taller than that, he was a freshman last year and had a pretty good year for a freshman. Big guys develop later and when they get better, they get better quickly. We are hoping he shows as much improvement over this year as he did last year. He will probably start at center for us, as of right now anyways. Will Hudson is a sophomore. He played a ton of minutes for us last year. So those three guys will play the front.

I think Keith Benson has a lot of untapped potential. He seems like a quiet guy and playing like its effortless, but if they can tap into his aggressive side and get that to come out he will be unstoppable in the Summit League. He shows flashes of it, but has to be more consistent. Will Hudson is similar. He also shows flashes and needs to be more consistent. As far as Waterstradt, he is a high-energy guy that can knock down mid-range jumpers, rebound and defend in the post. I think he has played a big role in the development of Benson and Hudson and takes it upon himself to encourage both of them rather than worry about them taking his minutes. It’s good to have a team-first senior like that with young big guys.

(Derick) Nelson is a perimeter player, he’s not a frontline player, he’s a perimeter player. He’s just a slasher, a kid that can get to the basket. He’s a great offensive rebounder. His jump shot, since he got here to today, has improved greatly. How good he is will probably be determined by how he can make the jump shot because people don’t guard him very close because he can go by just about anybody. He has to make some jump shots so they respect that part of the game and he has worked very hard at it.

I voted Nelson preseason player of the year. I think he earned that by his play last season and still has a lot of potential. Kampe is right about having to use his jump shot. At times last season when Oakland was down or needed a big hoop, Nelson may have tried to do too much. This season, if he can take what the defense gives instead of forcing the issue I think he will have a lot of success, but at the same time a big part of his game is getting to the free-throw line so I’m sure he will continue to attack the basket.

I think the league will be probably at the top as it’s been. I really do. We have been in this for 10 years now and the amount of teams I think can win it, is probably the most we have had in that time. I think the top of the league is very strong. The question is we have some new coaches, a lot of teams have young players and in our league we don’t know a great deal about the players that are coming in at other places so it’s hard for me to say who will be good and who won’t be until we see them. The league is so spread out. I don’t recruit against Oral Roberts or Centenary or the Dakotas so I have no idea who their players are that they got and how good they are. I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are a lot of good players coming into the league so my guess is somebody from that fifth, sixth spot in the preseason will probably be fighting for a league championship at the end because they have players we don’t know about. I think the league itself is probably the best at the top I’ve ever seen it.

As far as the 3-point line, I think it will have no affect on the game. Anybody that watches our league play knows that our league has great shooters. It may have an affect at the higher level leagues, where slashing and athletes are more part of the game than in our league, but our league has great shooters. I know (UMKC’s) Dane Brumagin can make a shot as soon as he gets off the bus so I don’t think he cares where that line is. I know (IUPUI’s Gary) Patterson and the kids at North Dakota State (don’t care). You have a lot of kid in this league if you don’t guard them across half court they are going to make a shot. I don’t think it will affect our league. The funny thing is I think it’s going to affect the women more than it’s going to affect us. I think they made a mistake by not having the line be the same. As I watch our women practice, as I watch people play in our gym, with two lines they are shooting the ball behind our line because they don’t have time to look down and (think), ‘Is this our line or is this our line?’ So I think it’s going to affect the women’s game more than it’s going to affect ours because the line is there and you have the flash of a second to make the decision when you catch the ball and shoot it. I don’t know if that’s true or not, I just feel that from watching.

Brumgain definitely showed he can shoot from anywhere. The line won’t have any affect on guys like Kangas, Jones, Drew Maynard or Blake Cushingberry, who can shoot from NBA range.

As far as our new players are concerned, it’s an interesting problem that I’ve never had before, in that since we went to Division 1 we have never had depth. We have always had a roster of six or seven pretty good players and then it’s been hard. I think Ron Hunter will tell you the same thing, I think (North Dakota State’s) Saul (Phillips) as he goes through this and South Dakota State as they go through it, will tell you as you go through that transition getting depth is probably the hardest thing to do.

This is the first time since we have been Division 1, which is nine or 10 years now, that I can look at our 11th and 12th player and they belong in the Summit League. They are a good enough player to play in the Summit League. They are good enough to win game in the Summit League, that’s a first for us. Having said that, with five new freshman, who are pretty highly touted, they want to play. I will tell you they are going to play. At least four of them are going to play because they are that talented.

How I’m going to be able to mix with six guys that started games last year coming back and those four guys expecting to play — and in my coaching career I’ve never played more than seven or eight guys — how I can mix those people in, get those kids minutes, it’s going to be a real challenge for me because I’ve never done it before. It will be real interesting to see if I can handle that or not, I’m sure there will be a few of those kids that think I can’t.

Wonder who the fifth guy is? A possible redshirt maybe? I think I know who it is, but I don’t want to speculate. This is going to be interesting. These guys are all competitors that want to play. I was at practice Tuesday and they played two six-minute scrimmages with the freshman vs. the returning players. The freshman held their own and would have won the first half if not for a late Jones 3-pointer. The freshman can play and I think it will only help everyone get better as long as nobody gets unhappy or selfish and only worries about themselves more than the team. With that said I I don’t see that happening with any of these guys.

Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton
This will be an unique season for us, we used to having veteran players and experienced players within our program. This year, it’s a lot different. We only have one player that has more than one year of experience in our program and that’s Kelvin Sango. He has two. Robert Jarvis and Marcus Lewis both had great years last year, both helped us win a bunch of game, but last year was their first year in our program.

We are going to count on a lot of newcomers. We feel we have a talented group coming in. We feel we have a couple kids that sat out last year, Kevin Ford will be eligible in December and Kyron Stokes, who redshirted last year. I think both will contribute, but we need some of these youngsters to step up. Guys like Dominique Morrison from Kansas City, who I think has a chance to be a very, very good player. Ken Holdman from Tulsa and Beloved Rogers out of Baltimore, we need those guys to step up and help us early.

I think if people learned anything from last season it was to not count out the Golden Eagles. Some people wrote them off with the loss of Ken Tutt and Caleb Green, but Oral Roberts proved them all wrong by winning the Summit League regular season and conference tournament. Don’t sleep on this team, even if the tournament is no longer in Tulsa. I also read some impressive things on Morrision on Mike Brown's blog. Brown covers Oral Roberts for the Tulsa World and does a great job of covering the entire league.

I think Oakland and North Dakota State have to be the two teams, if George Hill would have stayed, to be honest, I would have picked IUPUI first because he’s that good of a player. You have five guys coming back and you look at the players both those teams have, they have won a bunch of game. They are hungry because they haven’t won a championship. … They are hungry to get to the NCAA tournament and I think both of those teams will have terrific years. I agree with Greg this year is probably wide open, there are probably four or five teams that have a shot at winning the conference championship.

NDSU coach Saul Phillips
A leader like Ben Woodside, preseason player of the year as voted by the league, he’s been trying to win every drill that he’s been in. That’s an important dynamic, when you see a guy that has been given quite a bit of attention approach every practice like it’s the most important thing in life for those three hours. That’s a pretty good start. Brett Winkelman is also just a terrific leader. Mike Nelson leads by example. We are blessed to not only have a great group of seniors from a play standpoint, but (also have) a great understanding of the game and understand what they need to do to get better. They have approached that with a very mature level.

They have shown the ability to put the ball in the hoop. We need to shore up areas on the defensive end. To play the second end of Summit League road swings with enthusiasm on the defensive end. Dive on the floor for every loose ball and take charge. If we can shore up some of that stuff and make it a little more consistent, I do think this team is not a lot of fun to play against when they are playing in that manner.

Phillips said more, but I accidentally hit stop on my recorder when I asked a question. Yeah, I’m a genius. But I asked him how the team was handling the pressure of finally being eligible after pointing to this year and being one of the league favorites. He said something to the affect that the players didn’t know if they would ever have a shot at the NCAA tournament when they came to NDSU so they are playing with house money at this point. I think there is some pressure there though and we'll see how they respond.

IUPUI coach Ron Hunter
In the last seven years we have won 19 and a half games, we have averaged 19 and a half wins over the last seven years and George (Hill) only played in three of those years. We won before George, we won with George and we plan on wining without him. George is a tremendous player and everyone knows I love him. He has done a lot not only for our program, but the league. Don’t make any mistake we are going to still win basketball games. We won before he got here. We are going to play and I’m going to coach with a chip on my shoulder because we know we are going to hear that a lot. I think people will be very, very surprised to see what this team does this year.

Jon (Avery) and Billy (Pettiford) have started for us really ever since they have been here as freshman. Gary Patterson is one of the better guards in this conference. Those guys are very good players and they deferred a lot to George Hill because they have always played with George, so I think they are looking forward to, not so much not playing with him because they love playing with him, but to show how good they are. Those three guys with the talented kids that we have brought in and Leroy Nobles, John Ashworth and Adrian Moss, we feel like we have the balance of a good basketball team. Our year will really be predicated on how quickly our young guys come, if they come ready to play early then we will be good. By January I think this can be a very, very good basketball team.

Hunter sounded annoyed when asked how his team was going to do without George Hill. This could still be a dangerous team, especially if the newcomers turn out to be quality players.

IPFW coach Dan Fife
We actually have ten new faces. Players to watch this year are our transfer in from Kansas State (Deilvez Yearby) has come a long way for us. We are looking for him to step in. We also have another Division I transfer in from Central Michigan by the anme Aaron Richie, who does have quite a bit of Division 1 experience. He is very fundamental, 6-7, can do some good things and I think he’ll have some success in our league. We have a couple freshman to note, Trey McCorkle is 6-10, 240, has been a surprise in the preseason. We just have to continue to work on his stamina and ability to put together a combination of minutes. I think Trey is going to be a good player for us. I think the main thing is our core group of guys, our seniors and Ben Botts and Zach Plackemeier our two sophomore guards, they have to continue to provide the leadership that we need. We didn’t necessarily have that last year. It’s time for those guys to step up and get it done.

This team is my dark horse in the league race. I don’t know much about IPFW’s two transfers, but if they can have the impact of a Rawle Marshall and Cortney Scott then this team is going to be dangerous. Like I said I don’t know too much about these two, but thought I would throw out that analogy because it’s a possibility. If it happens you heard it here first, if not I’m sure no one will remember what I said.

In the past it has looked very good going into the season. The schedule has always looked good with Michigan State on it, we have had Marquette, we play Marquette again this year in Wisconsin. On the flip side, when you go and look back after the season is over it hasn’t looked so good. It’s been quite a bit of Ls. That’s something we are trying to turnaround. You mentioned opening at Xavier, I just saw were Xavier is picked to win the A10, and then we come to our building and we have Michigan State. We have not had much success with Michigan State, as most school haven’t. But we are really trying to get some momentum going and get in a nice crowd and be right in with the Spartans at the end. We play Nebraska, we play Marquette. I heard coach Gary mention his schedule is tough and I think if you look across our league and most teams are dealing with a very tough non-conference schedule.

Oakland women’s coach Beckie Francis
On schedule and success against big teams last season
It’s very exciting to beat Florida State. When we played Georgia down there last year, we gave them a game, it actually makes our players think, ‘Maybe we can get closer to Georgia again when we have them on our home court.’ That’s pretty exciting.

We have been giving our team some time off so they can focus on their academics, last year we were ranked 20th in the nation in GPA with a 3.132 and South Dakota State was No. 1 in the country in women’s basketball GPA so we are coming after South Dakota State for their GPA.

It was pretty funny after Francis said this it was silent and another question was asked. Francis replied I was joking, but I didn’t hear any laughter. I believe everyone else was on mute is why it was so silent, but several other coaches joked about something and then were caught off-guard by the silent response. Anyways, Beckie I thought it was a good joke, considering everyone is likely coming after South Dakota State because they are the defending regular season champions and are hosting the league tournament this year.

On Pike being named the preseason player of the year.
Pike gives us a great GPA. She does it all on the court. She works hard on defense and when you have one of your hardest workers, working hard on defense it’s a good situation in practice.

Nobody deserves the recognition more than Pike. A lot of pressure comes with the preseason player of the year tag, but Pike can handle it. She is a great leader and gives it her all every game and every practice. I didn’t vote her as my preseason player of the year, but gave it strong consideration and was glad she won it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great overview of the teleconference. Keep up the good work.

October 29, 2008 at 3:11 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave! I appreciate that!

-Beckie Francis

October 30, 2008 at 7:46 AM 

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