Aside from the dozens of people in the stands of the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas during the Vegas 16 Tournament, nobody really knew that the Oakland Golden Grizzlies were participating in postseason play, despite being knocked out in the Horizon League Conference Tournament semifinals.
It was a three-week lay-off for OU head coach Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies before playing in the Vegas 16. Although they lost to Old Dominion in the championship game of the inaugural tournament out in Sin City, it was one of the better and more memorable seasons in Golden Grizzlies basketball history.
After Wednesday night’s 68-67 loss, Oakland finished the season 23-12. The 23 wins is tied for third-most in school history and the most since making the switch from the Summit League to the Horizon League three seasons ago. They have made gradual improvement in each of those three seasons (13 wins in 2013-14; 16 wins in 2014-15).
This season has been one of the more prolific in Oakland history. They led Division-I with 86.4 points per game as a team, fourth with 3023 total points scored, and they were the highest-scoring team in the Horizon League, averaging better than 88 points per game in league play and scoring 1588 points in those 18 games, setting a new single-season watermark by a Horizon League team in a conference season.
Oakland also scored at least 90 points in twelve games this season and eclipsed to century mark in half of those.
Kampe and Oakland have been notorious over the last several years for scheduling multiple Power 5 schools in a single season, and this year was no different. Included in their non-conference slate were road games at Georgia (L by 4), at Washington (W by 14), and at then-No. 5 Virginia (L by 13). Also thrown in there was a neutral-site game against then-top-seeded Michigan State, which could have been considered a de facto home game for Oakland seeing as it was played at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
It was easily one of the more exciting games all season long in college basketball as the Grizzlies had a Spartans squad minus Denzel Valentine down by double-digits early in the second. The game eventually went to overtime where MSU hung on to win and stay undefeated at the time. That game was the highlight of a remarkable and historic season for Oakland junior Kay Felder, who posted a season-high 37 points along with 9 assists.
Felder, a mid-season Wooden Award candidate, is also a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the nation’s top point guard at the Division-I level. While the Oakland junior and Horizon League Player of the Year is not among the top 10 final candidates for the Wooden Award, he has a rather strong case for the Cousy Award. Felder’s 24.4 points per game was good for fourth in the country and his 9.2 assists per game was second to none in D-I.
Some more numbers on Felder? You got it. This season along, Felder’s 853 points scored and 324 assists ranked second-most in school history for a single season.
He has 1,741 career points in his first three seasons for Oakland basketball, leaving him just 667 points behind the career points leader in school history set by Carvin Melson back in 1969-73. His 788 assists are already good for third-most in school history, 117 shy of the top mark in Oakland basketball’s 49-year history.
Then there is Oakland senior and three-point specialist Max Hooper. The Horizon League’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2015-16 shot the ball 249 times this season, all of which came from behind the arc. He converted on 114 of them, making his 45.5 percentage the third-highest in a single season for a Golden Grizzly.
Hooper is the career leader in Oakland history with a 42.6 percentage from downtown over the last two seasons. He finished the season ranked in the top nationally in that department.
Hooper was already a fan favorite from the Oakland faithful but he became the ultimate focal point of one of the more touching moments in recent sports history when his bedridden father showed up all the way from California to attend Oakland’s Senior Night victory over Detroit back in late February. The elder Hooper, Chip, had been in a four-year battle win cancer and tragically lost his life just a week later after seeing his son play. He was just 53 years old.
It wasn’t just the two-man show of Felder and Hooper that helped carry the team this season. Junior forward Jalen Hayes was named to the All-Horizon League Second-Team in 2015. His 30.6 minutes per game and 13.1 points per game were second on the team only to Felder and his 8.6 rebounds per game were highest in that category for Oakland. Hayes performed even better in league play, averaging nearly 16 points per game in 18 regular season conference games.
It was another good season for Oakland and they are in a good position to have an equally as good if not better one in 2016-17. They are relatively young as only two seniors depart – Hooper and center Percy Gibson, who posted per game averages of 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.
With another year of Felder running the point and eight underclassmen adding another year under the belt and having improved roles, Oakland basketball should be in a good position to make a bid at its fourth NCAA Tournament bid in 2016.