Sunday, February 08, 2009

Oaklandthoughts, live and in person

I took this! OK, not really. But I could have. If, you know, I'd had a camera. And a press pass. And I didn't sort of suck at taking pictures.

I haven't seen nearly as much live basketball as I should have in my two-plus years in Ann Arbor. In part, that's because when one's day job* requires one to spend five nights a week in a gym already, spending one's Saturday in one wasn't as appealing as it should have been for either yours truly or the Mrs. JCCW. Partly, it's because the two easiest-to-reach mid-major gyms from the A2 belong to Eastern Michigan and Toledo, and driving through the snow and ice to watch the Rockets lose 53-40 to Miami or the Eagles lose 71-48 to Akron or something similar never seemed entirely worth the effort, even for a hoops nut like myself. So, yeah, the vague plan I had back in the winter of 2006 for turning the JCCW into a kind of Ann Arbor-centric mid-major version of the great Chris West Basketball Journal never materialized.

But hey, as the almost-as-great Expose once told us, seasons change, and Saturday night we made the hour's drive to Oakland U. to check out the Golden Grizzlies defeat Centenary 78-65. Here's your West-style wrap-up:

1) I can't say Erik Kangas is any more athletic in person than he is on TV--if you're wondering why a guy who's one of the more efficient offensive players in the country for the number of possessions used isn't the designated off-the-bench marksman for some BCS school, that he repeatedly had trouble keeping up with Centenary in transition should tell you something--but heavens to Murgatroyd, the dude can shoot. He wound up taking 10 threes on the night (hitting 5), but both myself and Oakland coach Greg Kampe thought he could have fired up a few more than that. After one first-half possession in which Kangas had passed up a halfway-open look to dish to an even more-open teammate (who bricked his three), Kampe could be heard clear across court telling Kangas "I want YOU to shoot that." Coach, as sweet as Kangas's stroke is, we all do. He did end up hitting the biggest shot of the night, a nice transition three with five seconds left in the first half. Kangas took a short outlet pass, dribbled upcourt, barked for a screen, got it, and swished a 26-footer to give Oakland a one-point lead at the end of a half in which they hadn't really played all that well.

2) I'm not the first person to make this observation, but taking a look at the "members of the Summit League" display in the O'rena reminded me that the Summit truly does have an outstanding roster of nicknames. Mastodons, Jackrabbits, Kangaroos, Leathernecks, Gentlemen, and (my personal favorite) Thunderbirds? Quite a lineup, and you can't say that the Golden Grizzlies aren't doing their part--a couple of old photos in a mural along one O'rena wall betrays the fact they used to call themselves the Pioneers. Good call, OU decision-makers.

3) The combination of the visiting Gents getting off to a hot start from outside and OU missing a whole series of chippies gave Centenary an early lead of as many as 10 (Kampe isn't lying when he said he was steamed; he visibly lit into various guys half-a-dozen times in the first 10 minutes) but it was clear from the jump that the Gents weren't going to have any real answer for OU's size inside. The threat of Kangas outside and the length of Keith Benson inside meant that Oakland was all but assured of a high-percentage shot as long as they didn't turn the ball over. Result: Kangas goes for 19, Benson hits 8-of-9 from the floor and scores a career-high 26. I have no clue how the Grizzlies contrived to shoot 33 percent in these teams' first meeting.

4) Centenary has a player named Maxx Nakwasaah. Am I obliged to make a crack about his shooting not living up to his name? He went 3-of-14 from the floor.

5) OU pulled a large and lively homecoming crowd (if maybe not the sell-out Kampe seems to be claiming; we bought our tickets not more than five minutes before tip-off), and kudos to the "Grizz Gang" for a much more spirited student section than you'd find at a lot of mid-major gyms. One complaint: a lot of students and a good chunk of fans-at-large were wearing an Oakland "replica jersey" that looked nothing like the actual OU jerseys and were pretty obviously freebies as part of a Meijer**-sponsored giveaway promotion. It's not easy to find a piece of apparel that makes you think "a t-shirt would look a lot less cheap," but in this case a t-shirt would have looked a lot less cheap.

6) Like virtually every non-football PA in existence these days, the OU guy could have turned it down a couple of notches. The religious-quality exultation at made 3's was nothing new, but the "CARRYING ... THE ... BALL!" response to the Gents turning it over was a first. Then again, he was hardly the only Grizzly in the building who was a little over excited. If you look at the second photo in this gallery, it doesn't look like senior forward Dan Waterstradt would be celebrating a routine charge call in the game's first five minutes with his team down half-a-dozen, does it? Oh, but he is.

7) Double-digit loss or not, I thoroughly enjoyed the way Centenary played. Lots of good ball movement, intelligent decisions in transition, a highly functional drive-and-kick centered around the fact that in Chase Adams and Nick Stallings they essentially have two points on the floor at once. They just didn't have anyone on the roster who could handle Benson. Not saying one's a better coach than the other, but if you asked me which coach got more out of his team's talent on this particular night, given that the game was held in Oakland I'd have to go with the Gents' Greg Gary.

8) Not much to add to my overall evaluation of the Grizzlies since the two previous times I mentioned them: between Kangas's ability to spring for 30 on a good night, Johnathon Jones's steady hand at the point, and their length inside, I still think OU is the biggest threat to take down North Dakota St. at the Summit tourney--particularly now that Oral Roberts has dropped two straight.

9) The highlight of the non-basketball entertainment portion of the evening was an on-court race between two female students outfitted in those giant plastic sumo suits, specifically the part where one of them fell over just before crossing the finish line, because come on, that's funny. I think it says something about the value of said sumo suits that this was the highlight despite the fact the suits weren't even used for fake sumo.

*For any new readers: I served as a sportswriter for two weekly community papers south of Ann Arbor, and probably saw more high-school hoops during my two winters at the position than anybody not actively employed to coach high-school hoops in the area.

**The Michigan equivalent of Wal-Mart, a franchise in fact so similar I catch myself thinking "I'll need to stop by the Wal-Mart" or "Yeah, that's over there by the Wal-Mart" when in fact there is no Wal-Mart for miles.


Ryan said...

Wow, sounds like you enjoyed your visit to the O'Rena.

Our student section on some nights is pathetic but on others it's pretty crazy and loud.

I'm putting my $ on OU v. NDSU in the Championship game, but NDSU definitely has a deeper squad, so I'd have to take them if I was actually putting real dough on the game.

I was one of the students NOT wearing the cheapy little meijer jerseys :).

Jerry Hinnen said...

Ryan, I did enjoy it. It's a nice gym with good basketball ... what's not to love?

By the way, I forgot to mention that Milutinovic was like a -7 in just two minutes of play ... in three defensive possessions he left two dudes wide open for threes and committed a shooting foul. On the other end he bricked a 3 and I think helped commit a turnover. A phenomenally awful performance.

Anonymous said...

ya he is kind of our version of darko

the student section has been strong all this year and that should carry on into next year (forgetting games over breaks) OU is the only team with the talent to play with anybody and also to take down NDSU. Remember we lost our leading scorer and rebounder from last year at the begining of the season due to a broken foot. Nelson was a huge loss but the younger players have really stepped up.

thanks for checking us out and writing about it i really enjoyed it.
keep coming to the O.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Yeah, I remember watching during halftime of the IUPUI game on FSD when they mentioned Nelson had been lost for the year. That suuuuuuuucks. Almost makes you wish Kangas had taken some kind of redshirt so the whole team (minus Waterstradt, I guess) could take a run at the league post-Woodside and the rest of the NDSU seniors.

Not that I think OU can't take them if they get something out of Maynard and Cushingberry. Those two seem like the "wild cards" and the difference between OU being just a good mid-major and a potential bid winner.

ryan said...

haha about Ilija.

Cushingberry has been playing well lately, finding ways to score other than the set 3pt shot. We need to get Maynard back playing good and we might be tough to beat.

John said...

Whoa, Meijer (usually pronounced "Meijer's") is a lot nicer than Wal-Mart. K-Mart is the Michigan (Midwest) equivalent of Wal-Mart.

Jerry Hinnen said...

John, really? I would disagree. For starters, I don't even know where my local K-Mart is--to be a Wal-Mart equivalent, you've gotta be pretty well all over the place. And while Meijer's are generally nicer stores than Wal-Marts, they're not quite Targets, either, at least in my experience. I think the comparison's valid, though maybe the Ann Arbor-area just happens to be K-Mart deprived for some reason.

Dan said...

Very nice article. It's great to hear such good things about OU basketball. As an alumnus of the university (and the grizz gang) I find your analysis to be interesting. The Free Press has called Kampe the 2nd best coach in the state (behind Izzo). As someone who bleeds vegas gold, and watching OU games since the late 80s, you saw a typical OU team. True to Grizzly fashion, this team features a product with a strong perimeter game, good guard play and a solid inside game with occasional late game collapses (see tonight's conf. championship game). Anyways, look forward to more OU articles

-Dan from Wash DC