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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

OU media day extra

Oakland held its annual media day Friday and a lot of interesting comments came out of a press conference that lasted over 30 minutes. Head coach Greg Kampe and players Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas, Derick Nelson and Dan Waterstradt delved into such topics as the recruiting class, the schedule, expectations and several other issues. So much information came out of media day that I couldn’t possibly fit it into the one article that appeared in Saturday’s Oakland Press, so I’ve decided to tackle a few of them in updates each day this week leading into the Grizzlies season opener at Cleveland State. I will start off today with the recruiting class.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe thought his recruiting class could be the best he ever had when Lake Orion’s Drew Maynard, Romeo’s Blake Cushingberry and Port Huron Northern’s Jay Thames all signed in the early-signing period last season. But Kampe’s coaching staff continued to work hard on the recruiting trail and in the spring added point guard Matt Samuels from Washington D.C., center Ilija Milutinovic, a native Serbian who played for a prep school in Kansas City and transfer Larry Wright from St. John’s, who averaged nearly 10 points a game as a sophomore.

“We got two players that are ranked in the top 100 in country,” Kampe said. “We have never really done that. We have had some player come in. I don’t think JJ was ranked as one of the top 100 players. I don’t think Derick Nelson was. They probably should have been. I think when you talk about a recruiting class, you talk about the propaganda that goes with them. Once they get on our campus that stuff is all over. Nobody cares about that anymore. But what’s come true out of these players is, they are good players.

“We’ve got size, we’ve got strength. The biggest thing is if you look at Matt Samuels, Drew Maynard and Blake Cushingberry, three of those freshman, they don’t look like they are 18 or 19 years old. They are physical. They got size. They are not kids. When JJ got here, he weighed a buck and a half I think. As good of a player as he was, he had to get bigger and stronger. We don’t have to do that with these guys. Drew Maynard is big and strong already. There’s things he has to do to get better, but we don’t have to fix their bodies first. Usually with freshman you have to fix their bodies and then help them play basketball.

“Ilija came in at 275 pounds,” Kampe added. “He’s down to 250. Now we got to get him back to 270, but we have to get him with strength back to 270. That’s what made that recruiting class so good.

“Larry Wright is part of that class, but can’t play this year, he averaged 10 points a game as a sophomore in the Big East at the toughest position to play in that league. So you know he’s a good player.”

The recruiting class made Oakland — which returned five starters in Jones, Kangas, Nelson, Waterstradt and sophomore Keith Benson, and sophomore Will Hudson, who played in all 31 games last season — a very deep team, especially for a mid-major program.

“We believe that we are going to win over a long period of time if we can find a way to play 10 guys,” Kampe said. “Johnathon Jones has played 37-38 minutes a game since he’s been here. If I can get that down to 30 minutes a game, I think he’ll be more productive. He’s got great numbers, but I think you’ll see his numbers go up because he doesn’t have to take plays off. He doesn’t have to rest. In past years, he has had to do that because we just haven’t had someone who can come in and run the point. A tired Johnathon Jones, trying to figure out when to go hard and when not go hard, on the court was better than the alternative. We don’t have to worry about that anymore so we can get Johnathon playing at top speed for three quarters of the game. That’s going to make him a better player, his numbers will be higher and he’ll be more efficient.

“If we can get 10 guys that are going to play, and we can figure out a way to spread out those minutes, I guarantee at crunch time you’re going to see our veterans out there. I trust them. I know we can win with them. The young guys are going to have to prove themselves to us. They are very good. They are very, very good. If we are going to be good, it’s going to because those guys supplement what we have.”

Kampe knows he will have to patient with his freshman, something fans might not be considering all the hype. None of the freshmen’s past accomplishments matter now that they are on Oakland’s campus. They will have to earn their minutes, just like every other player.

“In coaching trust is very important. You have to trust your players and they have to trust you,” Kampe said. “Obviously we have a long history with certain players, we trust them. Those young guys are going to have to earn my trust. They can only earn it through performance and their actions. How they handle the games themselves, how they handle being a part of our program

“Sometimes I’m pretty tough on these guys. You’ll notice it’s usually with the younger guys, not with the older guys. As they get older, the trust is there. I know how they are going to act and I let them go. So in crunch time you are going to play the guys you trust. Any coach is going to do that.

“Could a Maynard or Cushingberry be on the floor? I’ve seen Cushingberry in our practices makes many, many shots in a row from deep and if he’s doing that, I’m not that stupid that I’m going to take him out. I’m going to leave him in there. It’s possible they will get some opportunities. But for the most part late in a game, you know the ball is going to be in JJ’s hands and we are going to try to get Kangas a shot or Nelson a drive. It’s pretty simple.”



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