BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The white-pillared, clubhouse of Oakland Hills Country Club is as grand and gorgeous as you might expect for a place that’s hosted the Ryder Cup, six U.S. Opens and consistently ranks among the top 10 to 20 golf courses in America. It was, after all, modeled after Mount Vernon.
Nearly two years ago Bob Huggins, the colorful West Virginia basketball coach, sat at a ballroom table inside of it. He was surrounded by a few guys he’d just played golf with at a charity event called Coaches Beat Cancer.
As his off-the-record stories of old recruiting battles elicited larger and larger laughs, the audience slowly grew. One more. Then three. When someone noted that a plane was ready to take Huggins home, he waved it off and figured there was time for a few more laughs. Another round was ordered.
Greg Kampe, the longtime head basketball coach at Oakland University, runs the Coaches Beat Cancer event. It was borne out of frustration at having too many people around him dealing with the disease. When the plan for this unique and intimate event was hatched with the American Cancer Society, this was exactly what he’d envisioned. Not just something that could raise $200,000 in a day but something that felt worth it to the donors.
“I wanted to give people an experience,” Kampe said.
They got it. Ten coaches were brought in. They were bid on by a fan who was allowed to bring along two friends to form a foursome to play the legendary and exclusive private golf club. That was just part of it though.
Coaches Beat Cancer actually starts the night before, with a hotel room and dinner banquet at the MotorCity Casino in downtown Detroit. With 10 groups, that means just 40 people are there, including 10 famous coaches – the last time it included Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, John Calipari and others.
Then almost everyone progressed to the casino and the evening went, for some, rather late. The next day there was a stop at a children’s hospital, lunch at Oakland Hills and then 18 holes of golf and a post-round wind down. What you got was 24 hours of basketball heaven, a chance to really meet and laugh and enjoy the coaches, whether it was your direct bid, or just someone who wandered over and sat with them. By the time donors teed off, they and their coaches were already well acquainted and popping off one-liners.
“It’s a pretty neat thing,” said Izzo, who will headline the next installment of the event this June 4-5. “It’s fun just to be sitting there and listening to all the stories and the jokes. It was really cool, not just for people who bid, but for us.
“I mean, Kampe is the best, the cause is phenomenal and you get to play Oakland Hills.”
This year’s line-up of coaches and former coaches turned broadcast personalities include the following: Izzo (Michigan State), Stan Van Gundy (Detroit Pistons), Kampe (Oakland University), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Chris Holtmann (Butler), Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), Fran Fraschilla (ESPN), Steve Lavin (Fox), and Bill Raftery (CBS).
If you’re a fan of one of these guys, it’ll be a heck of a time. Even if you aren’t, you’ll become a fan. If nothing else, you can count on Raftery cracking everyone else up.
Kampe has won nearly 600 games and appeared in numerous NCAA tournaments in 33 years at Oakland, a Horizon league program in suburban Detroit. He is one of the most popular coaches among his peers in the country, which allows him to put the event together. He may not be a famous coach, but he can get famous coaches to donate 24 hours of their busy time for this.
“It’s an important cause,” Kampe said. “And I’m grateful the other coaches will do it. But it’s also a fun event.”
There is certainly nothing else like it in basketball, and that’s before some old coach like Bob Huggins is holding court and telling tales.