By ERIC TABER
Consider these familiar names from the past: Larry Krystkowiak, Micheal Ray Richardson, Bob Cope, Kareem Jamar. Those former Grizzly basketball players claim the first, second, third and fourth spot, respectively, on the University of Montana’s list of all-time career scorers.
Now there’s another player – a current player – who is racking up numbers that could, if his next three years mirror his first, earn him a spot on that prestigious list too: Michael Oguine.
Oguine (pronounced Oh-geen-ay) is just a freshman but has already scored in double figures in 15 games, and tallied 20 or more points in five contests, including a career-high 27 points in the 88-78 home win over Montana State a couple of weeks ago.
Oguine has started the last 24 games and is second on the team in rebounding (4.8 rpg) and minutes played per game (30.7) He’s third in scoring (11.4 ppg) for the year.
Oguine is part of the successful Griz squad that includes starting forwards Martin Breunig and Fabian Krslovic, starting guards Brandon Gfeller and Walter Wright (who is second on the team at 12.4 ppg), and the solid bench play of junior guard Mario Dunn, junior forward Jack Lopez, and freshman guard/forward Bobby Moorehead. Junior guard Riley Bradshaw, redshirt freshman Gavin DeJong, and redshirt center have also contributed. Thanks to their combined skills the Griz are currently in second place in the Big Sky Conference with a 13-3 league mark, and have won eight of their last nine games.
Head coach Travis DeCuire‘s talented 2015-16 squad has been led by Breunig, who leads the team averaging 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, which ranks him second and third, in the league. Breunig, UM’s only senior, is one of the most prolific big men to play for the Griz, and just the second player in school history (joining Anthony Johnson) to score more than 1,000 points in just two seasons.
The 6-9 native of Leverkusen, Germany, will be recognized prior to Saturday’s game on Senior Night.
There are 31 Griz players — Breunig is the most recent — who have scored 1,000 or more points during their UM careers. Only two of them have averaged in double figures as freshmen – Oguine and Kevin Criswell. Criswell, who averaged 15.1 points a game as a redshirt freshman in 2002-03, is fifth on UM’s career list with 1,663 points.
“Oguine brought more to the table then we thought,” said DeCuire, now 38-19 overall in his second season at his alma mater. “We knew that he was a guy who would scrap on defense and slash and do things. But we thought he needed to develop offensively, and defensively really. So we were hoping maybe to bring him along slow and some other guys would have success.”
Instead, Oguine got right to work, scoring 17 points and playing 34 minutes in UM’s 74-72 opening-season home win over the Broncos — his first collegiate game.
“Once that ball went in to the air for that Boise State game, he kind of hit the ground running,” said DeCuire, who credited current UM assistant coach Chris Cobb for making him aware of Oguine’s talent level. “Once we found out that he’s just a gamer, we just started putting him on the floor more and more, and started increasing his role as the season progressed.
“As a freshman, he was ready to play as much an anyone we’ve had,” DeCuire continued. UM’s coach compared him to two other standouts-as-freshmen players he once coached: point guard Drew Williamson, who was a pivotal player for Old Dominion when the Monarchs advanced to two NCAA tournaments and an NIT final four, and Jorge Gutierrez, an impact player on one of the University of California-Berkeley’s NCAA Tournament teams.
DeCuire’s faith in Oguine’s abilities paid immediate dividends. This year, Oguine is ranked among the Big Sky’s leaders in scoring (25th with 11.4 ppg), and he plays much bigger than his 6-2 frame, ranking 18th (tie) in rebounding with 4.8 boards per game.
He has proved he can perform on the big stage, as shown by his scoring effort in the win against BSU and the home-court victory over MSU, along with the 22 points he had at Washington, 20 in a 79-66 home win against Portland State, and 21 in an 80-72 road win at MSU. He had team-highs of 21 points and 8 rebounds (tied with Breunig) in the Grizzlies’ 60-54 road loss last week at first place Weber State.
“I definitely wanted to — and thought that I could — contribute right away,” said the personable Oguine following a recent Griz practice. “This is what I prepared for in high school. That’s why I worked so hard leading up to this, because I wanted to come in and be ready.
“I had a great summer session,” he said, “and my coaches prepared me for what was going to happen this season – we got a lot of good work in. Over the summer when I was back home I got a lot of training in too – just for this moment.”
“I am just thankful for the opportunity that my coaches gave to me, and for my teammates, who really helped me a lot,” he said.
Scoring at a high level is nothing new for Oguine, who averaged 21.3 points as a senior at Chaminade Prep in Southern California as a senior, and also had five 30-point efforts, and even had a career-best 45 points in one contest. His junior year he averaged 12.5 points a game for his state championship squad.
He said that he was very happy with his decision to play for the Grizzlies and attend UM.
“I won’t forget the first time I talked to coach (DeCuire),” said Oguine. “We just kind of clicked right off the bat. His vision for the program and where he wanted to go with it really resonated with me.
“When I came and took my visit and got to see the city, and got to see the program and all the pride that people take here being affiliated with the program — it just felt right,” he said. “My mom and I came here and had a great visit and met a lot of great people. I talked to my coaches and to my family and made the decision to come. I’m really glad I made that decision.”
On his visit to Missoula, his host players were Jordan Gregory and Mario Dunn. “Yeah, Mr. Character — Jordan Gregory. It was cool,” Oguine said, laughing. “It was kind of a weird visit because I came on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, so I missed the football game. There was not a lot going on but, to be honest, that meant we had a lot more time to talk basketball and school. It was a focused visit and I got a lot out of it. I had a clear mind and knew what I wanted to do.”
Grizzly basketball wasn’t the only reason Oguine wanted to come to Missoula. He maintained a 3.6 GPA in high school, and has continued his academic success at UM, making the Dean’s List after his first semester and earning a 3.83 GPA. He’s majoring in business.
“I want to play basketball professionally at some point, but obviously that doesn’t last forever,” said Oguine, who also had scholarship offers from Harvard, Santa Clara, and UC Davis. “No matter how long and successful your (pro) career is, at some point it ends. So I definitely want to get a good degree and be able to do something with that in business, whether it’s marketing or managing, or maybe even be in some sort of international business. I want to learn as much as I can while I am here and take what I’ve learned to the outside world.”
Oguine said his parents, Debra and Samuel Oguine, take a lot of pride in academics, as do his sisters, Stephanie and Michelle. Stephanie, 23, earned a degree in business at USC, while Michelle is a junior at Johns Hopkins University and majoring in international studies.
“My parents are proud of me and held me to high standards,” he said. “They wanted to set a good example. When they were kids they were very studious as well. They are really great role models and I’m glad to have them in my life.”
When he is not competing or studying he plays FIFA, a video soccer game. “I don’t like to brag, but I am pretty good at that game and take a lot of pride in that, and I go on line and play against people all over the world,” he said. He said he also likes to sing, listen to music by artists like Kanye West, and “just chill out with my friends.”
Oguine is a good basketball player, but “even a better kid,” said Coach DeCuire.
“He’s been incredible to coach,” DeCuire said. “We’re excited that we’re going to have him for four years. The thing about him is that he’s very competitive, but he does it in a real special way. He overwhelms you with kindness and politeness, but at the same time he’s got that grit. His nose for the ball and his athleticism are off the charts.”
DeCuire calls Oguine a “high-motor” player.
“That’s the one thing that people don’t pay close attention to in recruiting – a kid’s motor,” DeCuire said. “You don’t have to rev him up; you just have to coach him the fundamentals of the game and the thought process of the game, and you’re going to get results.”
After DeCuire and the Grizzlies conclude their regular season slate at home this Thursday and Saturday, they will begin phase three of the season — competing in the Big Sky Tournament in Reno, Nevada, March 8-12, with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake for the champion. (For more on the Big Sky’s post-season tourney, go to RoadToReno.com.)
“We’re sharing the ball and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” DeCuire said. “We’ve got multiple guys shooting the ball well from the perimeter. Jack’s (Lopez, a 6-5 junior forward) been huge in that regard; because at the four spot he allows us to spread the floor out, which makes Martin (Breunig) more effective, and it also gives more room for our guards to penetrate. We’re coming together better as a team. We still have got room to improve, and I think the guys are willing to do the work to do that.”
“The season is kind of winding down right now,” Oguine said. “We’ve had great success. We’ve just got to finish out these games and have some momentum going into the league tournament.”
Next year, Oguine said, the Grizzlies have a great redshirt joining the team, Ahmaad Rorie, a 6′-1” transfer guard from the University of Oregon, along with several other promising recruits.
“I am trying to finish out the season the right way and enjoy this, and see how far we can go with this season,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this summer and getting back at it — and doing it again.”
Griz fans will have the final chance to see Oguine and his talented teammates play in person this week as the 18-9 Grizzlies conclude their regular season. The University of Montana hosts the University of North Dakota Thursday, March 3, at 8 p.m., and Northern Colorado Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m.