METRO DETROIT — While being named the head coach of any Division I college basketball program could be considered a unique privilege, for Oakland University women’s basketball head coach Jeff Tungate, receiving that chance at his alma mater makes the opportunity even more special.
After working as an assistant coach on Oakland’s men’s basketball team for seven seasons, Tungate is in his first year at the helm of the women’s squad. Tungate inherited a team that went 9-20 last season.
In the short-term, Tungate indicated that the goal is to help the players learn the process of what it takes to win, without worrying too much about what the scoreboard may read at the end of a game. He has also given some thought to future goals for Oakland’s program, and Tungate isn’t exactly thinking small.
“Become a program that’s ranked nationally,” Tungate said of what he wants for Oakland’s program. “I’m biased, being a graduate from Oakland University, but with the support we have from our administration and where we’re located, I think a top-25 program is something that’s very do-able. Back in the Division II days, they made it to the final four.
“When Bob Taylor was the coach here at Oakland, they were a Division II powerhouse and built one of the top Division II programs in the country. It’s been proven before that Oakland can get to a final four. I like to dream big, and there’s no reason we can’t do it at the Division I level.”
Oakland is off to a good start in regards to Tungate’s ambitions, as according to Blue Star Report’s college recruiting rankings, the Golden Grizzlies’ 2014 recruiting class received honorable-mention honors as one of the top in the nation.
“We’ve got a really good recruiting class coming in,” Tungate said. “The thing that’s nice about it is we bring in some athleticism; we bring in people that can shoot the basketball — a lot more depth, a lot more competitive for positions and playing time. With the players we have returning, combined with the players we have coming in, we’ve got a chance to be very, very good for a long time. I’m really excited about the class.”
One of the players included in the Golden Grizzlies’ 2014 recruiting class is Rio Dudgeon (Macomb Dakota), who plays the small forward position, and according to a release by Oakland, was ranked in the top 70 at her position by ESPN. Dudgeon expressed excitement about the opportunity to be a part of Oakland’s recruiting class.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I think he’s (Tungate) doing a great job recruiting the girls. Really excited to play with all the girls they have.”
The experience Tungate had working on men’s coach Greg Kampe’s staff for seven seasons could turn out to be influential for Oakland’s women’s basketball program.
“I was very fortunate, because coach (Kampe) allowed a lot of freedom and gave me an opportunity to do a lot of things on the court not many assistants get the opportunity to do,” he said. “It really prepared me to be a head coach at this level. I learned so much from him, especially on the offensive end. He is such a great offensive coach, and a lot of the system of play they do offensively, we implement into our program. Very grateful to him, very thankful for the opportunity he gave me.”
While things might not have gone as smoothly as fans would have preferred last season, Tungate expressed optimism about the future of Oakland’s women’s basketball program.
“I feel really good about the direction of the program,” he said. “The players are playing extremely hard; they’re having a lot of fun. We’ve got great chemistry, and the future is very, very bright. We’ve got a great group of seniors and underclassmen to build this program moving forward. This program is headed in the right direction.”
Oakland is scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 in a home game against Valparaiso.
Other local players on the Golden Grizzlies’ roster are Elena Popkey (Warren Cousino), Michele Hayes (Southfield-Lathrup), Sinclair Russell (Troy Athens), Bethany Watterworth (Lake Orion) and Terri Brown (Southfield-Lathrup).