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Kampe Session: Oakland’s coach guides program for 38 years

Oakland’s Greg Kampe looks to the success and the ability of his staff and players as the keys to his nearly four-decade long run with the Grizzlies

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Oakland
Greg Kampe has won more than 650 games over the course of his career. He also oversaw Oakland’s transition to Division I.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

When Greg Kampe took over as the Oakland men’s basketball coach, Ronald Reagan was president, Germany was divided between East and West, Prince released “Purple Rain,” Alex Trebek hosted Jeopardy for first time, and Tom Brady turned seven. The team played at the Division II level, and its mascot was the Pioneers. That year was 1984.

Now in his 38th season at the helm in Rochester, Mich., Kampe is third longest-tenured current head coach behind Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (45 years) and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewksi (41 years). He has posted more than 650 victories with the Golden Grizzlies, who have been a part of Division I since 2000.

“Going and chasing riches was not something that I put a priority on,” he said. “I always felt fortunate that I had this job, and I just wanted to keep this job… We grew Oakland into a special place, and that’s different… It’s just been a good place for me and a good fit.”

And Oakland has been a good fit for several elite players as well. More than 30 of Kampe’s players have played professionally, most notably Kendrick Nunn. After spending his first pro season in the NBA G League, Nunn burst onto the NBA scene with the Miami Heat in the 2019-20 season. He was the first undrafted player to be named Rookie of the Month multiple times.

Rawle Marshall, Keith Benson and Kay Felder have also played in the NBA.

Local product Travis Bader set the NCAA Division I record for career 3-pointers with 504, which broke the mark set by Duke’s JJ Redick.

Oakland has had three different players lead the country in assists for a given season over the last dozen years (Johnathon Jones, 8.1 assists per game in 2010; Kay Felder, 9.3 assists in 2016; and Jalen Moore, 8.4 assists in 2021).

“The real secret behind it is a great staff with the ability to go out and get really good players, kids who buy into a system,” Kampe said. “To be good at the mid-major level over time, you have to do something that’s going to attract kids because nobody grows up wanting to go to Oakland… You have to get lucky and get some really good players that do special things. And then you use those kids and those players to attract the next group.”

Oakland’s success has gone beyond its players’ individual accomplishments. The team won six Summit League championships in 14 seasons in the conference before it made the jump to the Horizon League, where it has won one tournament and one regular season title.

The Grizzlies have won at least 10 games in league play 14 times over the last 16 years, which is the most of any Division I Michigan school, which includes national powers Michigan State and Michigan.

“When you talk about what I’ve done at Oakland, it’s really not what I’ve done,” said Kampe, who was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. “It’s what a group of people have done – a lot of assistant coaches that didn’t get recognition… Many of the great players are here because of somebody that worked for me. It’s a collective effort. The university has done a great job. It’s really not about me. It’s about the team – the team that I have put together maybe, if you want to give me credit for anything.”

One thing Kampe can take credit for is his philanthropic efforts off the court. He has helped raise more than $500,000 for the American Cancer Society. He has worked with the Boys and Girls Club of America, Beyond Basics (a non-profit that helps inner-city kids) and the Oakland County Shelter for Women in Need.

“When you have a platform to do something, you do it,” he said.