ROCHESTER, Mich. | Things got so bad for Greg Kampe when it came to Valparaiso that the longtime Oakland coach said Friday he once had to seek counseling to deal with constantly losing to the Crusaders.
Whether Kampe was serious or not is up for debate, but what is unmistakable is the high admiration he has for the Valparaiso program.
The Crusaders (9-7, 1-0) and Grizzlies will rekindle a conference rivalry this afternoon when Oakland hosts its first Horizon League game after leaving the Summit League last July.
“When we first became Division I, I always said that Valpo was who we wanted to become,” Kampe said. “I wasn’t afraid to say it back then, and I think we got to that point where we were winning championships. To say you want to become like another program, that’s the greatest respect you can give anyone.”
Much like he did during the Horizon League Media Day in October, Kampe recounted with precise detail a variety of defeats that Oakland incurred in a 16-game losing streak to the Crusaders that started when the Grizzlies joined the Mid-Continent Conference in 1998. Valparaiso won every game for seven years before the Grizzlies pulled out a 95-89 win at the O’rena on Jan. 26, 2006.
“I had to get some help,” Kampe said. “I had to see a psychologist to figure this thing out. I mean, there were some weird, weird things that would happen, and we just couldn’t beat them.”
The shoe is on the other foot in the rivalry now as the Grizzlies have won five of the last six games, with each being decided by six points or less. The last four games have been decided by one possession, including a pair of heartbreaking nonconference defeats in the last two years for Valparaiso. Matt Kenney turned the ball over with five seconds remaining two years ago which led to a Reggie Hamilton game-winner at the buzzer. Last season the Crusaders led by nine points with less than five minutes remaining, but failed to score another point in a 70-68 loss.
“Bryce texted me ‘good luck’ before our (first Horizon League game) yesterday, and I responded that I’d see him on Saturday for our 'annual final possession game,'” Kampe said. “It’s just a lot of fun with Valpo. I like everything about them. It’s good people. It’s the way a rivalry in college basketball should be.”
The Grizzlies (5-11, 0-1) have the worst nonconference record among Horizon League teams this season, but a large part of that can be chalked up to a brutal schedule that included games against North Carolina, Michigan State, Indiana, UCLA and Gonzaga. Oakland is led by long-range specialist Travis Bader. The senior is 25 3-pointers away from the NCAA all-time record (457) which is held by J.J. Redick.
“There’s no question in my mind that we’re a better team now,” Kampe said. “We had great learning experiences, and it sharpened us to where we need to be.”