Offer up any number of concerns about the outlook for his current basketball team and Oakland University coach Greg Kampe will remind you of a previous season when he faced a comparable situation and overcame it.
With 29 years at the helm of the Golden Grizzlies' men's basketball program, Kampe gives off the impression that he has seen it all, and the truth is, he's probably right.
With the season opener approaching, this year's Oakland squad faces the task of replacing its dynamic point guard, Reggie Hamilton, who led the entire nation in scoring last season with 26.2 points per game.
But neither Kampe nor his returning players flinch at the thought of maintaining the same high-scoring offense that routinely puts 80-plus points on the scoreboard.
"This is the 29th team I've coach, and every one of those teams had a star," Kampe said. "Our system makes stars. We're going to have someone averaging 18 to 20 points per game this season. That's just our system.
"I haven't even thought about Reggie not being here. I've coached one of the three top scorers in the nation on several occasions and you really don't want that.
"Last year, because we were so young, Reggie kind of came to the forefront and we allowed that to happen. We wanted it to happen because that was the way for us to win last season. But you're never going to be championship caliber if you have the leading scorer in the nation, at least in my opinion."
The starting five
Returning junior Travis Bader is expected to lead the team in scoring this season thanks largely to his 3-point shooting abilities. Bader ranked second in the country in made 3-pointers a year ago and should once again be one of the premier shooters from behind the arc.
"You have to guard Bader from anywhere he stands on the court, and that changes the dynamic of your offense," Kampe said.
Oakland will also benefit from the addition of point guard Duke Mondy, who sat out last season following a transfer.
"You'll be amazed when you see Duke Mondy play," Kampe said. "He is a point guard we've never had in our program before."
Without a trace of hyperbole, Kampe calls Mondy the best passer he's ever coached, setting the bar high for the former Big East Conference player who left Providence to return to his home state at Oakland.
Rounding out the Golden Grizzlies' starting lineup, senior forward Drew Valentine, sophomore center Corey Petros and junior guard Ryan Bass bring experience and a variety of skill sets to a team with Summit League championship aspirations.
Last season, Oakland suffered an unexpected first-round loss to Southern Utah in the conference tournament, which denied the Grizzlies of a third-straight NCAA Tournament bid.
"It was a devastating loss and there's no question about it," Kampe said, recalling his team's late-game collapse. "It's not just that we lost, but the way that it happened. The game was won. We had an 11 point lead with two minutes to go."
Oakland's consolation prize for missing out on "March Madness" was a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, where the Grizzlies advanced all the way to the semifinals before falling to Utah State.
Long road ahead
The Golden Grizzlies will once again play one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules this season that includes road games against perennial college basketball powers Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Kampe openly refers to the schedule as "stupid" due to its exhaustive travel demands, particularly a six-game, six-state road trip over a 15-day stretch in November.
"We looked at ourselves last year as a very young team, and the thing that was a glaring weakness was how weak we were physically," Kampe said. "This whole offseason, the No. 1 priority in everything we've done is to get bigger and stronger."
Under the guidance of a new strength and conditioning coach, Kampe said his players have improved dramatically over the offseason, which should help alleviate past concerns.
Oakland will play games at Michigan State (Nov. 23) and at Western Michigan (Dec. 1). The team's notable early-season home games are Dec. 6 against local rival Rochester College and Dec. 17 versus long-time rival Valparaiso.
The Grizzlies will be in the mix for a Summit League championship, with most preseason polls picking Oakland to finish second or third in the conference. Defending champion South Dakota State expects to present the biggest competition.
Approaching a milestone
Kampe enters the season just 10 wins shy of 500 for his career (all with Oakland) and says he's proud of how far the program has come in the past three decades.
"It's really a prideful thing to see what we've done (in recent seasons)," Kampe said.
Oakland has won 94 games over the last four seasons — a remarkable fact given the inordinately high number of BCS conference opponents (26) that have populated its schedules over that span.
"I think the future is even better for us," Kampe said. "I think we're going to continue on that upward rise and I think there's going to be a day that we do something special in March. That's really nowadays all anybody cares about. We haven't done that yet — the one thing we haven't done is make that (NCAA Tournament) run in March."
- Drew Valentine, senior forward — A three-year starter, Valentine is the most experienced player on Oakland's roster, as well as its most versatile. He averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds last season and has embraced his role as team captain. "It's definitely my team this year, I feel like," Valentine said. "Whatever coach Kampe says is always directed toward me and my team, so that's definitely always on my mind. I'm (watching out) for all the guys in all aspects and trying to get everybody right and on the same page."
- Travis Bader, redshirt junior guard — In two seasons, Bader has recorded 218 made 3-pointers. The NCAA's Division I record for career 3-pointers, held by Duke's J.J. Reddick (457) is within reach for Bader if his production remains steady over his junior and senior seasons. "I think this year's team could be one of the better defensive teams we've had the past few years," Bader said. "Usually, Oakland is known for scoring points and being up there averaging 80 points per game, but this team really has in its mind that we'll play defense first."
- Duke Mondy, redshirt junior guard — Mondy will take over the point guard duties this season and bring a much different style to the position than his predecessor, Hamilton. He is expected to be the team's best defensive stopper. "I take pride in (my) defense, so I think bringing that will spread around to the team," Mondy said.
- Corey Petros, sophomore center — A graduate of Utica Eisenhower High School, Petros is arguably Oakland's most indispensable player due to the team's lack of experienced depth at the center position. He averaged 8.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a season ago.
- Ryan Bass, junior guard — Kampe said he plans to deploy Bass when he needs instant-offense this season, comparing him to Vinnie Johnson from the "Bad Boys" era of the Detroit Pistons. Bass had a breakout performance in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament in March. He's also the player on the Grizzlies' roster most likely to record a slam dunk, despite standing just 5-foot-9.
Upcoming home schedule
- Oct. 30 — Oakland vs. Davenport University (exhibition), 7 p.m.
- Nov. 6 — Oakland vs. Defiance College (exhibition), 7 p.m.
- Nov. 9 — Oakland vs. Albion College (season opener), 7:30 p.m.