Rochester — Oakland’s Greg Kampe, at 66, and Detroit Mercy’s Mike Davis, at 62, are the oldest men’s basketball coaches in the Horizon League. Between them, they have 61 years of head-coaching experience, entering this season.
Despite the changing landscape of college athletics — namely with the transfer portal and name, image and likeness — Kampe and Davis aren’t pondering their own exits, even as such notable names as Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jay Wright have all called it a career in the last year-and-a-half.
“I get asked that a lot. I don’t know if people are suggesting maybe it’s time for me to get out it,” Kampe quipped Friday at the O’Rena, during Oakland’s media day ahead of the 2022-23 season.
“This is a true answer: If I have a team like this, I’d be here till I can’t walk anymore.
“As long as it’s like that, I’m gonna be around.”
Earlier in the week, at Detroit Mercy’s media day, Davis had a similar sentiment. He said he’d like to coach at least another eight years, until he’s 70, and if he’s feeling good then, then he’ll want to go even longer.
“If it’s feeling good,” Davis said, “then you don’t walk away.”
How either coach will be feeling at season’s end is up for debate. Oakland was picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League and Detroit Mercy sixth, but each team has the talent to outperform the pundits’ preseason projections.
Oakland started the season Thursday night with a 92-76 exhibition victory over Grand Valley State at the O’Rena, while Detroit Mercy gets things going Saturday with a not-so-secret scrimmage against Western Michigan at Calihan Hall.
This is Kampe’s 39th season at Oakland. Only Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, in his 47th season, has currently been at the same Division I school longer than Kampe among men’s basketball coaches. Things have changed a whole lot since Kampe was a 20-something kid coaching the Division II Golden Grizzlies, but he’s always learned to adapt. And that’s what he’s doing with this new age of college athletics, particularly with the transfer portal, which hurt his team when it first was introduced, but has helped him in the years since, including with the additions this year of Rocket Watts (Michigan State , Mississippi State), Lorne Bowman (Wisconsin) and Keaton Hervey (Missouri State).
“Don’t think we don’t have conversations about where the game is going and why people are going, and from the transfer portal to the NIL, to all the new rules, to trying to coach kids,” said Kampe, who is good friends with Williams, the legendary North Carolina and Kansas coach. “In my school of coaches, our thing was you come in as a freshman as a kid and you leave here as a man, and there’s been a lot of bad things that happened during those years that mold you into a great person.
“We’re losing that when people are leaving and running and looking for something better instead of embracing what we have. … There’s a song that says, ‘It’s not (having) what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got (by Sheryl Crow).
“That’s probably why I’ve stayed at Oakland for (nearly) 40 years.”
Kampe has had some great teams over the years at Oakland, and some great players, making the NCAA Tournament three times, but not since 2011. He thinks he might have that next great team, led by returning point guard Jalen Moore, returning forward Trey Townsend, plus Watts, Hervey and Bowman, plus returning shooter Blake Lampman. A team that lacked depth the last two years, and thus had to slow down the pace (something Kampe hates), now could be back to running the floor like track stars. On Thursday, Oakland had 47 possessions in the first half; last season, Oakland averaged about 62 or 63 for the game.
Kampe, who over the years had opportunities to leave for Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, signed a contract this spring that takes him through the 2026-27 season; he’ll make a salary of nearly $400,000 a year.
Davis, meanwhile, is entering the fifth year of a seven-year contract he signed in taking the job in June 2018. His salary is undisclosed, because Detroit Mercy is a private institution.
This is Davis’ fourth head-coaching stop. He made the NCAA Tournament in each of his previous three stops, including the NCAA championship game with Indiana in 2002. He hasn’t made the NCAAs at Detroit Mercy, where he has three losing seasons out of four; his lone winning season was 12-10 in the COVID-19 season of 2020-21.
Still, he said, he remains energized to keep coaching, and he wants it to be Detroit Mercy.
“I want them to be (the last school); so much has to change here to be able to recruit,” Davis said. “That’s the first thing, you want to recruit kids, but they live in the same dorms that Earl (Cureton) and John Long lived in.”
That’s why Davis is energized by new Detroit Mercy president Donald B. Taylor, a big sports fan who has pledged to improve sports conditions, starting with facilities, particularly for the school’s flagship program, basketball.
“He understands,” Davis said of Taylor. “He gets it.”
Davis, who made the NCAAs nine times in his first 18 seasons (four times at Indiana, once at UAB, four times at Texas Southern), is eager to get there with the Titans, who haven’t made it since 2012. At least apart from that is personal. Davis’ son, Antoine, is entering his fifth and final collegiate season, all at Detroit Mercy, after he flirted with the transfer portal during the offseason before deciding to return to the Titans.
Davis, if he stays healthy, should become the NCAA’s second-leading scorer all-time, though he said the real goal is playing postseason basketball. Antoine Davis, the reigning Horizon League player of the year and the preseason pick to repeat as the award winner, is the only starter who returned to Detroit Mercy, but Mike Davis hit the transfer portal hard, adding Damezi Anderson (Indiana, Loyola), Gerald Liddell (Texas, Alabama State, also recruited by Oakland), TJ Miss (South Carolina, McNeese State), Arashma Parks (Temple) and Jayden State (Grand Canyon).
Detroit Mercy was one of the slowest teams in the country, statistically, last season, and that should change.
Whether it’s enough to turn the Titans’ fortunes remains to be seen. There hasn’t been a lot of good fortune since Mike Davis arrived, with a late hire hurting his first recruiting class, a postseason ban his second year because of academic issues that predated the coaches’ and players’ time on campus, then the arrival of COVID.
Because of all those circumstances — COVID hit the Titans hard last season, too, costing them five home games — Davis still has the administration’s support.
“He’s been kind of fighting with one hand behind his back for three of his first five years, and that’s tough to do,” Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels said. “Now, I think he’s got some freedom to actually coach.
“He’s a Final Four coach. Tell me what schools around here have a Final Four coach.
“He’s a proven winner. You’ve gotta have the resources and the support.”
The state only has one other Final Four coach at the Division I level, and that’s Final Four fiend Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Izzo, Kampe’s good pal, recently said he will coach as long as it’s fun, with no end in sight.
That appears to be the refrain, too, from Kampe and Davis, who will square off Monday, Jan. 23, at Calihan Hall, and then Friday, Feb. 17, at the O’Rena.
It remains to be seen how much fun they’re having then, but for now, the job is the job for the foreseeable future.
“I’m locked in,” Davis said, “on basketball.”
Said Kampe: “As long as I’m around kids like (this), I’m not going anywhere.”