At 12-18, Oakland University is the only school in the 65-team NCAA tournament with a losing record. But don't expect an apology from Greg Kampe, the school's brash 49-year-old coach.
"We knew going into our conference tournament that we had to win it to get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and we did," he said. "That's the rules. That's the way it goes. There's no apology needed. The way we got in was fair and square."
Kampe has been on top of the world for a week now.
So, too, have his Golden Grizzlies, who came out of a self-imposed hibernation just in time to salvage their season and clinch the first NCAA berth for the school, which is near Detroit.
An unlikely hero - Pierre Dukes - delivered the improbable ending. His only shot of the second half, a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left, lifted No. 7 seed Oakland to a stunning 61-60 victory over No. 1 seed Oral Roberts last Tuesday in the Mid-Continent Conference championship game, and into the NCAA tournament.
In a matter of days, the Grizzlies went from chumps to champs.
JERRY S. MENDOZA / AP Enlarge
However, this championship was such a long shot that Gene Hackman may consider an offer to tell Oakland's story in Hoosiers II.
"Two weeks ago, I was telling someone that this is the worst team I've ever had in terms of losses," said Kampe, a 1973 graduate of Defiance High School and a rare two-sport college athlete who played football and basketball at Bowling Green and later served as an assistant coach in basketball at Toledo. "Then, in 1.3 seconds, it became one of the greatest seasons ever. And the guy [Dukes] who made the shot almost didn't make the team. It's pretty unbelievable."
In an effort to harden his team for conference play, Kampe put together the toughest nonconference schedule in the country.
His Grizzlies didn't respond well. They started the year 0-7 and served as road kill while playing the likes of No. 1 Illinois, Xavier and Missouri on the road.
Oakland didn't get its first win until Dec. 20, but it came against Division II North Dakota State.
The Grizzlies were 1-8 when they beat Bowling Green at home on Dec. 30. The team went 3-5 in January, and then one of Oakland's starters quit the team last month.
Although the Grizzlies finished the regular season on a season-high two-game winning streak, they sputtered to the finish line, winning only nine regular-season games.
Oakland, in just its eighth season of Division I competition, won one-third that many games in the conference tournament, going 3-0.
Tonight, the Grizzlies will meet Alabama A&M in the NCAA's play-in game in Dayton. The winner earns the right to face No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday.
The NCAA tournament will get its first look in 25 years at the stocky and cocky Kampe, whose late father, Kurt, was a guard on Michigan's national championship football team in 1947 and whose brother, Kurt III, was a defensive back and two-year letterman for the Wolverines in 1974 and 1975.
Kampe's last NCAA appearance came in 1980, when he was an assistant under Bob Nichols at Toledo.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Bob Nichols," Kampe said. "He has had a major impact on my coaching career. I remember when I came up here to Oakland, Bob said, 'Be patient, give it a year or two.'
"Here it is 21 years later and I'm still here."
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