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

Monday, November 10, 2008

OU frontcourt improved

Oakland’s frontcourt is hoping to have more of an impact offensively this season after seeing the perimeter players score a bulk of the points last year.

Senior forward Dan Waterstradt, who averaged 5.7 points per game last season, was the Golden Grizzlies highest scoring post player. Waterstradt told reporters at media day that people can expect a lot more from the frontcourt players this season.

“I know last year, we had our issues finishing the basketball and we struggled getting points down low so teams could kind of target these three guys (Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas and Derick Nelson),” Waterstradt said. “They were like, ‘That’s the big three, don’t worry about the big guys they’re not going to score.’ This year I think you can expect a lot more.

“Will Hudson has a got a lot stronger. He can finish around the basket. Keith Benson as well. He is long and athletic, and we are going to get him the ball in different opportunities for him to, basically, dunk on people. Get us excited and get the crowd excited. Bringing in Ilija (Milutinovic) and Jay Thames. I think we are going to be a more balanced team. We can get the ball inside and out. Hopefully, we can get these guys to pass us the ball. I’m just throwing that out there.”

Last season the Grizzlies entered the season with five tall and potentially talented post players, but senior Patrick McCloskey was the only one that played meaningful minutes for Oakland.

This season, sophomores Benson (6-foot-11, 225 pounds) and Hudson (6-9, 225) have a year of experience under their belts and Waterstradt has a year of experience at Oakland after transferring in from Rutgers and sitting out the 2006-07 season.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe has always maintained that it takes a little longer for a big guy to develop, but once they develop they get really good fast. That’s something fans could see happen this season for Benson and Hudson.

Benson started 20 games last season and played in 29 games overall, missing just the two Summit League conference tournament games. Benson averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, and his 40 blocks were one shy of the Oakland single-season record.

Benson showed flashes of his potential at different points last season. Once during a five-game streak in December he played at least 10 minutes in each game and over 20 minutes three times, with his best game being a double-double (17 points and 13 rebounds) performance against UMKC. But then Benson played 10 minutes or less in seven straight games.

He turned things around in a 14 point, four rebound and three block performance against Western Illinois, in which he played 23 minutes and shot 5-for-5 from the field. He then played solid minutes and contributed the rest of the season, until the finale at UMKC, where he played just three minutes. He was then benched for the conference tournament because of ‘his defensive play’.

Hudson also showed flashed last season. Hudson played in all 31 games, making two stars and averaged 3.5 points and three rebounds per game. He scored in double figures twice and averaged 6.1 rebounds per game in the final eight regular season games.

Waterstradt was easily the most consistent Oakland post player. He averaged 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and shot 45 percent from the field and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line. Waterstradt’s best game of the season came in the first round of the conference tournament where he had 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting and seven rebounds, and helped spark the team and frustrated Western Illinois with his intensity and hustle.

Waterstradt said he expects the frontcourt to take more strides this year and praised the entire team’s work ethic.

“Our work ethic on the court is a little bit different,” Waterstradt said. “In the two years that I have been here, Kampe talks about we get an off-day, we comeback and the practices usually aren’t up to the standards of before we took that off-day. We have had a few off-days so far early in the season and we come back with just as much energy or more energy and intensity, every time we practice. That has to do with the level of players we have and their character.”

The Oakland frontcourt also welcomes in the highly anticipated Milutinovic and Thames. Milutinovic turned down a six-figure offer to play professionally in his native Serbia to come to Oakland. He possess superior ball-handling, passing and shooting skills for a big man, but has to add strength after shedding some extra weight once he got to Oakland.

“Ilija has as good of ball-handling skills and ball skills of any big man I’ve ever seen,” Kampe said. “I’m not sure he is physically ready. He got here in July and he’s dropped from 270 to 250. Now we have to get him back to 275.

“His biggest issue is, we have to Americanize him. He has to learn and understand how the game is played here. He’s a very smart kid. He is very likeable. He’s worked very hard and to lose that weight, obviously shows his work ethic. He is somebody that is going to be a very special player at Oakland University. Is it going to be this year? Probably not. But it’s going to happen.

“What we’ve got to do is just teach him how we play the game here,” Kampe added. “He’s got to learn to defend and understand defense a little bit different than he’s used to. Everybody has to remember he hasn’t played in two years. He’s been playing prep school ball for two years, which is a whole different animal from what we do. In a normal year, in 23 of the 25 years that I’ve been here, Ilija would have come in and been a starter. But that’s how good we are. Keith Benson has really improved and is good. Will Hudson is good. Stradt is good. We’ve got players. We don’t have to force feed him like we would have in many of the teams that I’ve coached.”

Thames, who is currently 6-9, 220, also has to add strength and adjust to the college game.

“I think Jay Thames is probably better than I thought he was going to be as a freshman,” Kampe said. “I think Jay Thames has a chance to be an outstanding player, an all-league player at Oakland University. His issue is … he’s not physically ready.”



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