If coaches’ words were food, most of them would be processed chicken nuggets—filled with preservatives and churned out of a machine in the same size and shape. Each nugget looks and tastes like its predecessor, and will look and taste like the next one.
If Greg Kampe’s words were food, they’d be Thai stir-fry: spicy, eclectic and bursting with flavor. And all natural ingredients.
If you like your interviews to be antiseptic and predictable—where you can pretty much fill in the answer even before you ask the question—then don’t bother talking to Greg Kampe.
Kampe, Oakland University’s brutally honest men’s basketball coach, speaks without a filter. His words don’t come pre-processed. He takes being candid to the next level. With Kampe, the bare minimum you’ll get is candor. Often, you’ll get a little more.
Kampe is like the lyric from that song, “Oh Well.”
“Don’t ask me what I think of you; I might not give the answer that you want me to.”
I long knew about Kampe’s reputation for telling it like it is, but I experienced it firsthand last summer, when Kampe appeared as a guest on “The Knee Jerks” podcast with Al Beaton and me.
Al and I found out how Kampe ended up at the OU campus thanks to Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps’ white lie; that Kampe once turned down an NBA assistant’s opportunity; his second thoughts on upgrading the Golden Grizzlies program from Division II to Division I; and his thoughts on Oakland’s bitter rivalry with Detroit Mercy.
Ah, that last one.
For years, Oakland played in the Summit League. So despite the University of Detroit-Mercy being a mere 40-minute drive down I-75 from the OU campus, Kampe could never get the Titans to play his kids in a non-conference tilt. UDM played in the Horizon League—and still does.
But a few years ago, OU left the Summit League and entered the Horizon League, and now UDM can’t avoid Oakland anymore.
I asked Kampe last summer, “Do you think that [UDM] was avoiding you?”
He chuckled and said, incredulously, “Do I THINK?”
But the Titans can’t avoid the Golden Grizzlies any longer, no matter how much the good fathers at UDM would like to do so.
Last Friday, Kampe’s kids blasted the Titans, 108-97, notching their sixth victory over UDM in the last seven meetings.
The win was more than just for rivalry purposes; it vaulted OU into a double-bye in the Horizon League Tournament, which gets underway tomorrow.
This means that OU can sit back and watch eight other teams duke it out this weekend for two rounds, before returning to action on Monday, automatically in the tournament’s semi-final.
But about that rivalry with UDM: Kampe makes no bones about it—he loves beating the tar out of the Titans. And who can blame him? He has a lot of catching up to do, after all those years when UDM would refuse to put Oakland on its schedule.
Speaking on the radio in the week leading up to last Friday’s game against Detroit, Kampe freely admitted that he makes a big deal out of the UDM game with his players.
He said that even though Oakland has dominated the series lately, he wants his kids to remember that one game that OU lost.
“I don’t want them to forget what that felt like,” Kampe said.
And what would he be like if OU lost last Friday?
“I’m already not a very nice guy, but I’d be even less nice,” Kampe said.
Well, not to worry, because Oakland again dispatched of UDM, thus paving a much easier path to the league tournament championship.
This year’s Golden Grizzlies squad is led by guard Kay Felder, who was named Horizon League Player of the Year. Felder scored 26 points in Oakland’s latest win over UDM.
Last summer, Kampe told us on the podcast that, what the hell—he’ll say it: Kay Felder is the best player he’s ever coached.
And Kampe has been prowling the sidelines in Rochester for 31 years.
Oakland, which has made several appearances in the NCAA’s “big dance” in March in years past, hasn’t slowed down one iota since the 2013 switch from the Summit League to the Horizon League—whose teams have had their share of March Madness success in the past.
This year’s OU team finished the regular season 21-10 (13-5 conference) and you’d be a fool to bet against them in the tournament, even though they’re the no. 2 seed, behind Valparaiso, which did indeed beat OU twice this season.
Two years ago, Kampe had Travis Bader, who broke the all-time NCAA record for career three-pointers made, a record formerly held by Duke star—and current NBA player—J.J. Redick.
But Felder, a 5’9″ dynamo from, ironically, Detroit, blows Bader and every other player that Kampe has coached, out of the water.
Felder averaged nearly a double-double this season—24.4 points and 9.4 assists per game. He also chipped in with 2.0 steals per game, all while limiting his turnovers to just 3.4 per game, in about 36 minutes of action every night.
Felder’s FG percentage has risen steadily, as well—from 40.2 to 42.2 to 44.5 over the past three seasons.
And he’s a junior. The odds are he’ll stay at OU for his senior year, but several NBA observers look at Felder as a second round pick, at least, should he declare.
As for Kampe, he’ll be at Joe Louis Arena this weekend, watching the lower seeds battle, taking inventory as to what awaits his team on Monday night.
And if you see the coach there, don’t ask him anything if you can’t handle the truth.