The madness is coming to Detroit, the Motor City Madness. That’s the Horizon League Tournament that will be held at the Joe Louis Arena March 3-7 involving the men’s and women’s basketball teams from all 10 schools in Horizon League. The last preview covered Detroit Mercy, so this one will focus on the other local school in the conference, Oakland.
Oakland Men’s Basketball
The Golden Grizzlies (24-7, 14-4 Horizon League) in just their fourth season in the Horizon League have won a share of the Horizon League regular season title with Valparaiso. By winning both regular season games against Valpo, the Golden Grizzlies received the tiebreaker to clinch the number one seed in the tournament.
“I got a group of young men that really dedicated themselves to having a great year and worked very hard,” head coach Greg Kampe said. “They’ve overcome some adversity, some bumps on the road and found a way to win a championship, so it’s been very pleasurable for me, and like I said, a great group of kids. I really like being around them.”
The Golden Grizzlies had a 9-1 start to the season, their best in program history, and then beat Georgia at home. They’re 4-0 start in Horizon League play seemed to make them the early favorites to win the conference until their unexpected home loss to rival Detroit Mercy, which marked the beginning of a stretch of four losses in five games. Since then, however, Oakland has won nine straight.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Golden Grizzlies season is the fact that they’re success came after losing Kay Felder, arguably the greatest player in program history, who declared for the NBA draft last year and is now playing for the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite this, the Golden Grizzlies were still second in the Horzon League preseason poll and even received two first place votes. Since Felder’s absence, multiple players have stepped up to share the load.
“Our team is well balance,” senior guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker said. “We’re good, (through man) one-through eleven, so I feel like it just shows that we have a lot of versatility. Guys work on their game. When they get their number called, they’re ready to produce. I just give credit to the players on our team. Everybody wants to be a part of it, everybody comes in to work ready to work and it’s just a pleasure to be on this team.”
Dorsey-Walker and junior guard Martez Walker are both former Doughboys from Detroit Pershing High School who both originally went to Big 12 schools. Dorsey-Walker went to Iowa State while Walker attended Texas, but both ultimately made the decision to transfer to Oakland to be closer to home and to reunite with their high school teammate, Felder.
“Sherron, he just had a situation that obviously didn’t work out,” Walker said. “He just wanted to come back home and finish his year out of basketball, so something he’s enjoyed doing all his life. I came up here on his visit with him. We just walked around campus (and) we just felt that me and him playing back with each other and also Kay, to help my brother out, we just trying to get out there together and get rhythm up here, make some noise up here so everybody else can hear about it and put Oakland on the map.”
Walker, an All-Horizon League Second Team selection, leads the Golden Grizzlies in scoring with 17.2 points per game. Junior forward Jalen Hayes, an All-Horizon League First Team selection, is second with 15.8 points per game and leads the team with a 7.8 rebounding average and 37 steals. Dorsey-Walker, a Horizon League All-Academic selection, ranks third with 13.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds, but leads Oakland with 112 assists. Contributions though don’t stop with those three as freshman forward Isaiah Brock, an Army veteran, leads the Golden Grizzlies with 63 blocked shots and is second with 5.7 rebounds. Junior Stevie Clark and freshman Brailen Neely each have started at point guard and rank second and third respectively on the team in assists. Junior guard Nick Daniels can provide a spark off the bench, while sophomore forwards Xavier Hill-Mais and Brad Brecting both provide additional front court depth.
“I think it’s probably the deepest team I’ve ever had,” Kampe said. “All 11 guys that have dressed this year have had in the sun during this season. Some of them don’t get as much of a chance, but when they’ve gotten the chance, they’ve shined, so that’s what makes a good team, that’s what gives you the chance to win a championship, when you can go deep like that. It bodes well for us, it bodes well for the tournament. That next man up mentality is always good.”
The Golden Grizzlies will begin their journey in the tournament Saturday evening at 5:30 as they await the winner of the Friday match up between eighth seed Cleveland State and ninth seed Youngstown State.
Oakland Women’s Basketball
The Golden Grizzlies (18-11, 12-6 Horizon League) had an impressive finish to the regular season with a five game win streak and nine wins in their last 11 games. This culminates a remarkable turnaround for the program in it’s fourth season under head coach Jeff Tungate, who took over the team in the wake of the Beckie Francis scandal. During the first three seasons under Tungate, the Golden Grizzlies had conference records of 8-8, 6-10, and 7-11. This season represented a major step forward for Oakland, who clinched the fourth seed in the Horizon League Tournament, their highest seed since joining the Horizon League.
“I felt like it was good to go through adversity because it really helped me grow up and it really helped me become a leader by having not even being recruited by Tungate, this is my third set of assistant coaches,” senior guard Nola Anderson said. “It’s just been different and I like change. I like building towards something. He’s trying to start a culture and the culture is building with this team, and this is a whole different team than I’ve experienced the last three years.”
On a team with senior forward Hannah Little, an All-Horizon League First Team selection and Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore guard Taylor Jones, Oakland’s leading scorer and the Horizon League Sixth Player of the Year, senior guard Nicole Dodd, a three-point specialist and Horizon League All-Academic selection, and junior guard Taylor Gleason, the team assist leader and another Horizon League All-Academic selection, Anderson still has found her role on the team.
“My team, we all met and they all said I’m like the Draymond Green of the team,” Anderson said. “I can shoot. I can drive to the basket. I can play good defense. I rebound and I’ve really accepted that role because I feel like I am the glue for the team because I am the most versatile player on the team.”
Anderson has also embraced the role of being a leader after learning from the examples of past teammates such as Sinclair Russell, Victoria Lipscomb, and Zakiya Minifee, all whom she cited as major influences in her career.
Another key to the Golden Grizzlies success this season has been the development of junior forward Leah Somerfield, who’s gone from having limited minutes and struggling to find her confidence her first two years to becoming a very consistent presence. Having started 27 of 29 games this season, Somerfield ranks third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. This combined with her 34 percent three point shooting has helped cushion the loss of Olivia Nash, a 2016 All-Horizon League Second Team selection, now playing professionally in Finland, who’s skill set Somerfield now fills.
“I think confidence (has been the difference),” Tungate said regarding Sommerfield’s play this season. “She’s always had it in her. She’s shown spurts in the past, but to be consistent and how she’s played I think is a big key for her. I think she’s got the confidence now to show what she can do on a nightly basis. She’s become one of the best post players in the league, and just continues to get better. I think, number one, not having to look over her shoulder and worry about playing time, she knows she’s going to be in there 30-35 minutes a game, I think that’s helped her where she knows she can make a mistake and still stay in the game. So that’s helped but she just has a great confidence and I think the harder you work, the more confident you get; (and) because she’s worked so hard, she’s gotten a lot more confidence.”
The Golden Grizzlies will have to wait until Sunday afternoon at 2:30 to begin their run in the Horizon League Tournament when they face fifth seed Milwaukee at the Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s exciting because the first three years, we always played at another school for the first round of the tournament,” Anderson said. “It’s just exciting to go do there (to) Downtown and to be with other teams and actually experience the student-athlete experience about college basketball tournaments. It’s going to be a great experience for everyone out there. They’re going to have a lot of fun.”