Detroit, Oakland renew rivalry
DETROIT — It took more than a decade for it to happen, but the Detroit Titans and Oakland Golden Grizzlies have a rivalry again.
When the Grizzlies joined the Horizon League after 14 years in the Summit, it meant that two programs located about a half-hour from each other would now play at least twice a season.
On Saturday night at Detroit’s storied Calihan Hall, they met for the first time since Dec. 3, 2003.
It’s no surprise the Titans welcomed 6,976, their largest crowd of the season and third largest since 1999-2000.
Although most of the fans in Calihan Hall were wearing Titans red, there was a vocal group behind Oakland’s bench wearing black and gold.
"I knew our fan base would travel," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "I knew they wanted this (to get into the Horizon). That’s why I fought so hard. We got in it.
"I hope the people of Detroit embrace it. I personally think we’re winners, both teams, because this could really turn into something special."
Kampe even stopped in the middle of his post-game press conference to point out how much noise the Oakland fans were making outside.
"We’ve played the NCAA Tournament, we’ve played big games," he said. "I probably got 150 good-luck texts, from numbers I didn’t even know how they got my number (before this game).
"This is meaningful to Oakland."
And it showed as the Grizzlies rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit for a 77-69 victory. It was their second win in the Horizon and just their second ever against the Titans.
"That was probably the biggest home crowd coming to a road game that we’ve ever had, since I’ve been here at least," said Oakland junior center Corey Petros, who led his team with 23 points and 13 rebounds. "It kept us pumped. It kind of felt like a home game.
"Every time we’d make a basket, a lot of cheers like a home game, so it was nice."
Titans senior forward Evan Bruinsma, who had 14 points and six rebounds, was disappointed his team let one slip away, but appreciated the large homecoming crowd.
"Lot of excitement, lot of people in the gym," Bruinsma said. "Looks like there’s interest from people in the city.
"We had a real good crowd. Oakland brought a lot of people. It was a good environment, a lot of fun for the players, just tough way to end for us."
Titans coach Ray McCallum believes this rivalry could help the Titans reach more fans.
"The thing about it is the atmosphere," McCallum said. "This is the way it should be."
Kampe agreed with McCallum, not just because of this game but because of his own history at Calihan Hall.
"Detroit is a storied basketball program," Kampe said. "They have 100 years of history. They have maybe two players in the top-50 players of all time.
"I came to Calihan Hall as a kid. I played in Calihan Hall. As an assistant coach (with Toledo), I came and scouted a game — in the ’70s the scouts were up in the rafters and there wasn’t a seat empty.
"When they sang the national anthem and I was standing on the baseline, all I saw was a sea of red. I felt kind of glad that I had something to do with that, that this place was full.
"But we’re part of it now, and we’re not going away. We are not going away."
Just as with most big rivalries, there are going to be bitter feelings afterward.
A couple of the Titans had words with a couple of the Grizzlies when the game ended, but cooler heads prevailed.
"There was a little altercation on the floor afterwards. Good," Kampe said. "That’s what we want. We want this to be relevant. Beyond even the Horizon League, we want it to be relevant.
"I’ve seen Cincinnati-Xavier close up. I’ve seen Michigan-Michigan State games close up. I know what they are, and I want this to become that."
It has a ways to go to reach that level, but already it beats Detroit-Valparaiso or Oakland-South Dakota.
Former Titans great Earl Cureton, who remembers the days when Calihan Hall was packed, received the John Conti Letterman of Distinction Award on Saturday and delighted in what he saw.
"I’ve been waiting a long time for this," he said. "A lot of fans were interested in seeing it happen. It’ll be a good rivalry."