Meet the first stars of the tourney: underdog Oakland
Posted: Wednesday March 16, 2005 3:48PM; Updated: Wednesday March 16, 2005 3:50PM
Last year, SI On Campus went coast-to-coast during March Madness, covering 5,495 miles at a rate that would have sent Washington State's decidedly down tempo Dick Bennett into cardiac arrest (Spokane to Reno to Phoenix to Las Vegas in four days!) The only difference this year: more road-trippers! Log onto SI.com every day from until April 5 and check in with the SI On Campus team as it SUVs from New York to the play-in game in Dayton to the men's and women's championship games in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
By Maggie Haskins
Oakland fans watched their team go from 7-18 to a first-round NCAA tourney game against North Carolina.
SI On Campus
So you want to make the Big Dance, huh? You want to face off against the ACCs and Big Easts of the world? Get a little SportsCenter love?
There are traditional ways of achieving this task. You could be a consistent Top 25 team throughout the season. You could win over 20 games. Of course, some must be "good wins," thus ruling out Notre Dame's bitchin' victory over Little Sisters of the Poor to close out the non-conference schedule.
Smaller schools, their options narrow, must work harder. At-large bids are hard to come by if you are not in the WAC or the MAC, but rather the SWAC or MEAC. For most little teams, it's, Win the conference tournament or stay home on prom night watching Never Been Kissed. No matter what, the second prettiest girl ain't invited.
This rules out most teams seeded lower than fourth in their conference tournament. Unless you are the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies, who were 9-18 heading into the Mid-Continent Conference tournament. The Grizz made it look easy by winning three straight in the Mid-Con tourney. SIOC went Almost Famous in an effort to understand where this team came from so late in the season. From nap time to game tip, I followed the OU players.
And even though no one jumped onto a roof and shouted "I am a Golden Grizzly" while tripping on acid, much was to be learned. It was time to put up or Crudup. So SIOC presents: The Oakland University Guide to Making the Tournament (aka, How a Sub-.500 Team Learned to Ignore the Prognosticators and Win)
1. Punch your teammate in the face, breaking his orbital bone and nose. Strange advice? Certainly. Last June star Rawle Marshall exchanged heated words with teammate Kris Krzyminski during a pickup game. Krzyminski, known as a hothead, got into it with Marshall. Not the wisest move. Dubbed "Team Turmoil" by Street and Smith, Oakland struggled mightily the first three months of the season.
2. Bring in a quack. Disturbed by your team's playground antics? Would you prefer if your players stopped hitting each other and started hitting the glass? Then follow the lead of Oakland head coach Greg Kampe. OU's coach of 21 years brought in a psychiatrist to work with his players this season.
3. Lose your third-leading scorer in February. Remember Krzyminski? Yeah, shockingly enough he didn't make it through the whole season. After another argument, minus fisticuffs (love the word fisticuffs), Kris quit. There was an immediate change in the team's attitude. Visiting now, it's tough to a imagine a time when tension was rampant. So did Krzyminski's departure relate to the newfound success? "You could say that," Marshall said. "You could say that." He smiles, implying he probably shouldn't.
4. Never win more than two games in a row during the regular season. Seriously, don't. If you do Ish' won't sprinkle you (see No. 5).
5. Sprinkle, huh? If you watched the celebration of Oakland's upset over Oral Roberts in the Mid-Con tourney final, a little man's head-shaking and finger-waving likely grabbed your attention. This man is 5-foot-7 (the media guide says 5-9; Yeah, right!) point guard DeMarcus Ishmeal, and he brings the magic potion. Ishmeal adopted "the sprinkler" this year, and it's working. Frankly, I think its sweet he sprinkled the viewers at home with the potion. So inclusive.
THE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP
From New York to St. Louis, SI On Campus' three-week tour of the NCAA tournament
6. All the News That's Fit to Print. Did Oakland plan this elaborate ruse to appear as though it was a sub-.500 team to get attention and become the media's darling? I'm starting to think so. Everyone is so nice. They are unbelievably accommodating. They rope arms when the anthem plays, and they joke with one another like brothers. Someone should investigate this with the same intensity media outlets are wondering why Mario Vazquez left American Idol. Well, we were duped, as was the New York Times, who ran a piece Tuesday on the Golden Grizzlies.
7. Shirts vs. Skins. Reserve Derrick Coleman does not like to be photographed with his shirt off. Marshall and David Carson don't mind one bit.
8. Coach Kampe's mom's necklace. Probably the nicest woman in the world. First off, she told me, "It's so nice to see a woman doing the writing." Amen, sister! Second, since the Mid-Con tournament she has been wearing a jade necklace, The Mummy 3: Because Mummy needs a special necklace for her son's basketball game.
9. Embrace the play-in game. Warning: preachy message about the purpose of college sports. While the Dukes of the world are used to Nike sending shoes to their teams, Grizz guard Pierre Dukes is not. He lays on his bed in the afternoon with his Nike Elites and smiles. His smile widens when asked about the female attention his received for his conference championship heroics. Brandon Cassise doesn't know what to say in the postgame news conference. He feels like an idiot, but he is happy. Rawle Marshall is still trying to soak it all in. David Ritzema borrows my pen after the game. He takes the pen and crosses out Alabama A&M, a slash no more.
10. Coco, the brains behind the operation. Sure, Kampe has taken the program from Division II to Division I (see, Savannah State, it can be done). But Coco, the student manager, is the Huggy Bear of the group. He leads the team in the pregame cheer, and is always the one egging on the crowd. He saved the water cup Pierre drank from before he drained the game-winning 3-pointer in the conference tourney final. Following the win over Alabama A&M, I ask Coco what he thinks the final score of the Tar Heels game will be. "Oakland 62, UNC 61. Pierre hits the final shot," he laughs. "Oh no, don't print that." Sorry, Coco. You are telling secrets to the one girl you shouldn't tell secrets to.
Big ups to Oakland! Who cares about the 3,000-1 odds, my money is on you.