Embrace rivalry with OU, though it diminishes us

For Oakland and OU head coach Greg Kampe, the rivalry with UDM can be viewed in three ways. 

The first viewpoint is that of Kampe. 

“I look at it as the most important game of the year,” he said.

Obviously, the game means a lot to Kampe. 

Why? It could be because Detroit used Jesuit friend Loyola Chicago to block Oakland’s move to the Horizon League. 

When Loyola left the Horizon League on July 1, 2013, Oakland was able to join the conference as Detroit had no blocking partner. 

Kampe could be angry at Detroit’s refusal to play Oakland at a neutral site or at the O’rena, when it was felt that Detroit owed OU a game.

Regardless, it’s clear that the Oakland coach loves having a rival down I-75, and loves to hate Detroit.

The second viewpoint of the Oakland coach is one shared with his fans. 

He said it best in the postgame press conference on Jan. 10. 

“The fans flocked here,” Kampe said. 

And the fans truly did, as an estimated 3,000 of the 6,552 in attendance were Oakland fans. 

For ’10 Oakland graduate Matt Dudek, this rivalry is about “having a team to hate just down the road from us.”

Dudek loves the back-and-forth banter between the two fan bases, both of which have a rich tradition in mid-major basketball. 

OU ’04 graduate Jeff Radzinski says the rivalry gives OU fans a “chance.”

“Golden Grizzlies fans rarely have a chance to be on local radio and TV to express their enthusiasm for the basketball team and to participate in the trash talk, competitive nature and bragging rights that come with having a local rivalry,” Radzinksi said. 

The third viewpoint Kampe shared with me is that of his players, who he said “could have cared less” about the first meeting of 2015 between the Grizzlies and Titans. 

When asked about the rivalry, OU sophomore point guard Khalil Felder said that the rivalry was “big” and the team needed to “play better.”

From Detroit’s standpoint, coach Ray McCallum said the rivalry gets the guys “excited.”

“What I like about it is that we get a tremendous crowd, it brings attention to our program and gets people in the hall to see these guys play,” he said.

Detroit fans have mixed emotions. 

For Titan fan John Pomerville, the rivalry brings “such a good student presence and energy that makes me wish I were about 35 years younger and enjoying it all from a student’s perspective.” 

However, for long-time fan and class of ’83 graduate Tom Buysse, it means that “all our real rivals have abandoned us. It means that OU realizes that joining the Horizon and creating an instant rivalry with us improves their lot in life, even if it is demeaning to our school.”

“Our biggest rival right now is Valpo (Valparaiso), however,” he said. “We haven’t played any games against OU yet that mean anything in the big picture. OU is a forced rivalry with only the close proximity going for it.”

For the Detroit players, Juwan Howard Jr. said that he and his teammates are “starting to embrace the rivalry” and that “each conference game means a lot.”

After the win, Howard’s teammate Chris Jenkins said that Oakland was “like little brother” when asked how he felt about the rivalry.

As a student and someone who has been to 63 consecutive men’s basketball games and counting, I get what everyone is saying. 

I don’t like that Oakland is our new rival, as I find Greg Kampe annoying and think that the University of Detroit Mercy could do better. 

I, like a lot of fans, think that UDM needs to be in the Atlantic 10 or Big East conference. 

But right now – in 2015 – that’s not an option.  

Therefore, as much as I don’t want to, I will get in my car Feb. 15 and drive up I-75 to go and watch the game at Oakland.  

For the time being, it’s best to just embrace the rivalry.  

Oakland just built a new clock tower, and I have no clue if they built it to be like its “big brother,” UDM. 

However, if such is true, remember that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Jones is a VN sports writer