Oakland University won't be going to the NCAA hoops tourney this year. Despite the local hype, hype, hype, it was always a long shot. Just to make it official, the Grizzlies got bounced in their own conference tournament.
Perhaps they will get an invite to the much lesser NIT tourney for the also-rans, but maybe not.
Thing is, amid much fanfare, Oakland U decided to make the jump to Division 1 basketball a while back. Was it a smart move? Yes and no. Yes, because it bumped them up in status where they could occasionally face serious competition, and also forced them to build a semi-respectable arena for their team to play in. The little bubble dome they had in years past was a laughingstock.
But no when one looks at the results. OU has "graduated" from the Summit League to the Horizon. Pundits have called the Summit League "plankton" -- perhaps an appropriate term in the hierarchy of college hoops. But it all remains relative. If the Summit League was plankton, the Horizon League could likely be considered smelt. A little bit higher up the food chain, but in the whole scheme of things still meant to serve as nothing more than chow for superior creatures.
It's probably just as well OU didn't make the "big dance". I mean, what's the point? As likely a 15-16 seed they would have got blasted by a 1-2 seed in the first game anyway. Sure, the school would have got a payday, but the players don't get any of that dough. And is this the way they really wanted their season to come to an end? By having their team humiliated on national TV? They need to know their place, and it ain't with the big boys just yet.
That in itself seems odd. Oakland University has been around for well over half a century and sits in one of the wealthiest counties in the entire United States. Their student enrollment is well over 20,000, much larger than some smaller private schools that have perennially fared well in big time NCAA hoops. Think of Duke. So how is it the Dukies have rose to such prominence while the Griz remains mired in a "who cares" lower echelon of college basketball?
Yours truly is an alum of OU. It was a beautiful campus when I went there long ago, and has grown spectacularly in the meantime. Hundred of acres of available prime real estate (even a golf course!!) and money definitely isn't a problem. OU has it coming out of their ears, though their administration keeps trying to sell the "we're barely keeping our heads above water financially" scam to any that would believe it. They will whine about how state funding has been cut and raise student tuition by exorbitant amounts -- but you never see them cutting back on the preposterous salaries they pay the top administrative brass.
When it comes to hoops, OU is located about halfway between Flint and Detroit, two prep basketball hotbeds. But they can't seem to attract any blue chip players. Granted, college recruiting these days, especially among the elite programs, is a national undertaking. But you'd think with all OU has to offer on campus, and the vast variety of fields of study available at a first class academic institution -- a few of the local hot-shot boys would at least give them a look. But it hasn't worked out like that.
True, every few years OU lands a pretty good player -- and they'll put up impressive stats. But in order to ever escape also-ran status, somehow OU needs to land a crop of recruits that can grow into being capable of big-boy basketball and open the eyes of others to come. Success breeds success. Alas, that seems to be Oakland's glass ceiling. And identity. A quaint university in the high rent district that can't seem to make it into the big time of college sports. They don't even HAVE a football team.
The big star of the Grizzlies this year is one Kay Felder. He's leading the entire country in scoring and is right up there in a few other stats. But Mr. Felder has a problem. Actually two of them.
First, he's from a school that plays in a second-tier at best conference, and couldn't even win that.
And second, despite all his talents, he only stands 5 foot 9. His chances of making it in the NBA? Slim, at best.
Crunch the numbers. There are 30 NBA teams and the draft consists of only two rounds. That means 60 guys are going to get a shot. The top 20 in any given year are likely locks. After that it gets a little dicey. Late first round picks don't always pan out, let alone the second rounders, and not all these picks will go to American college players. We've definitely seen an influx of players from abroad in recent years who have some serious game.
The odds are stacked against Kay Felder having his name called on draft day. Sure, he could wind up in the NBA's development league or play abroad himself -- maybe. But five foot nine is what it is. He'd be going up against much taller and stronger players, including opposing point guards that have faced stiffer competition all along.
And professional leagues, be it the NBA or another on a different continent, have one thing in common. They're a far cry from the Horizon League.
Here's wishing Kay Felder the best in whatever comes next, but count me skeptical he can make his living as a professional basketball player in the future. He may have been all that at OU in the smelt league, but jumping in with the big fish might be hazardous to his mere survival -- quickly. We shall see.
Hope he finished his degree. He might very well need it.