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July 19, 2013

Oakland University athletics celebrates move to Horizon League

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe was one of the speakers at Oakland University’s Fan Fest July 16. The Golden Grizzlies are scheduled to host potential rival University of Detroit Mercy Feb. 14 at the O’Rena.

ROCHESTER — When Oakland University joined the Horizon League July 1, it was a day some had hoped would come for many years.

On July 16, coaches, athletes and representatives from the university had the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with “Oakland nation,” as men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe has been known to refer to supporters of the program.

Oakland hosted Fan Fest at the O’Rena, where enthusiasm over the move to the Horizon League abounded.

“Super excited,” said Nicholas Kristock, who is the captain of Oakland’s men’s soccer team. “It’s (going to) be great competition — a lot of fun.”

Kampe has already noticed the difference it has made in recruiting efforts.

“Major effect on it already, in that right now we’re in the top three to four with kids in Chicago, Milwaukee and Ohio, and those were the three areas we wanted to expand our recruiting,” he said. “The kid from Milwaukee we’re in on, we had no chance until we got in the Horizon League — now we’re in his top three.”

Oakland Director of Athletics Tracy Huth has also given some thought to the effect the move to the Horizon has had on recruiting.

“I’ve talked to a number of coaches that believe it’s already been very positive for them being in the Horizon League,” he said. “We never really recruited against the Summit League schools. Now, we’re recruiting against the Horizon League, the MAC and some of the other local conferences. It makes it more competitive, but that name recognition is there. The Horizon League Network is (going to) allow a lot of prospective student-athletes and families to be able to see us in action.”

The men’s soccer team scheduled to play the inaugural game in the Horizon, as the Golden Grizzlies are scheduled to face Valparaiso Sep. 6 on the OU Soccer Field.

Oakland had been part of the Summit League (previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference) since the 1999-00 season, after making the switch to Division 1 athletics, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Scott MacDonald.

Of the many benefits that are expected to result from the move to the Horizon, the reduction in travel time may be right at the top of the list. While the Summit League includes programs such as North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Omaha (Nebraska), all nine of the schools in the Horizon are located in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

“I’m excited; I can’t even imagine what some of our coaches and student-athletes, how they’re looking at it,” Huth said. “That’s certainly a huge factor. Not only the missed class time, but you’re in a better setting when you need to prepare for class. We can leave a little later maybe (for road trips) — we can certainly get back quicker after contests. The wear-and-tear on the body will be reduced tremendously.”

Perhaps the most exciting part for fans is the rivalry the move is expected to create with the University of Detroit Mercy, the only other Michigan-based team in the league. The men’s basketball team’s first Horizon League matchup with the Titans is scheduled for Jan. 11, at U of D, with the second game between the teams is scheduled for Feb. 14 at the O’Rena.

The Golden Grizzlies men’s basketball team has made it to the NCAA tournament three times since 2005, with U of D making it in 2012, and Kampe acknowledged that it is a matchup some people have been calling for in recent years.

“I know we’ve been calling for it,” he said. “I think they’ll (U of D) embrace it. First of all, to have a great rivalry, both teams have to win games. We (have to) play some games first to see what happens. Does it become a rivalry? I think it could, but rivalries are born on what happens on the court.”

As exciting as things may be now, according to MacDonald, he is also optimistic about the future of Oakland athletics.

“We’ve been moving in a positive direction,” he said. “Fourteen years we’ve been Division 1, and moving into the Horizon League is (going to) be great for this area, especially recruiting. I think Kampe’s already seen the benefits.”

Opponents on the men’s basketball non-conference schedule this sesaon include the University of North Carolina, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, Gonzaga University, Indiana University and Michigan State University, scheduled for Dec. 14 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.