— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
We knew it was likely, and now a new chapter begins for Oregon football. Mere days after the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, star running back LaMichael James made it official on Friday by announcing that he would forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
“It really was a difficult decision,” said James. “Especially after winning the big game and sharing that moment with my teammates. It was kind of like that you don’t want to go out another way.”
The 2010 Doak Walker Award winner rewrote the record books during his three years as a Duck. He’s scored the most points with 348, and his 58 touchdowns are the most overall. For that matter, his career 5,082 rushing yards rank second all-time in Pac-12 Conference history. Still, with all he’s accomplished, James said it was a tough choice to walk away from people he now considers family.
“I love my (running backs) coach (Gary Campbell) to the end and I’ll always be a part of his life,” he explained. “That, and not being in the locker room with my teammates will be very difficult for me.”
In the end, however, he believes there’s not much more he can accomplish playing in college. That, and he’s only a couple courses away from graduating.
“Ultimately, it came down to almost having my degree,” James stated. “I’ve also achieved just about everything that I possibly can at this level. I could win the Heisman or the BCS Title, but that’s just not likely. I feel like I’m going out with a bang.”
Now that he’s officially decided to go pro, James is excited to be able to have a chance at doing something only so many can consider a legitimate possibility.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve thought about playing in the NFL all my life. Who wouldn’t? I’m glad I can come a step closer to accomplishing those goals.”
He’ll soon hire an agent, and will begin training for the February scouting combine in Indianapolis. With any luck, the 5’9, 195 pounder hopes he can defy the logic of where he’ll finish in the draft.
“The draft advisory board told me I could be picked as high as the third round,” he clamied. “Right now, I’m hoping to go in the second round depending on how I perform at the combine.”
With all the stuff he’s preparing for in the next phase, James hasn’t had much time to look back at the standard he’s set at Oregon. Unquestionably, though, he’s raised the bar for future Ducks and is proud to have played in Eugene.
“It’s probably the best time I’ve ever had in my life, he explained. “It has taught me a lot of different lessons, and I think the credit has to go to head coach Chip Kelly as well as coach Campbell. I’ve never really been on a resilient team where everybody puts the team before each other and there are no independent superstars. This year’s team that won the Rose Bowl was the best by far where teammates are concerned.”
Now the guy who is, arguably, greatest running back in Oregon history is ready to take on the challenges of the NFL as easily as he dodged so many opposing defensive players at Autzen Stadium.
“I feel like I can be successful at the next level,” James said. “After that, I feel like I’ll be successful at whatever career path I choose.”
For the record, I think LaMichael could surprise some people in the pros. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be an every down back, but could definitely make an impact as a situational player or on special teams.
The Oregon running game will also move along fine with Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, and Tra Carson still in the stable. By the same token, there will never be another guy moved the way James did. There may also not be another one who could stay so humble no matter how brightly his star shined in the Willamette Valley.
From a reporter’s standpoint, he was always willing to answer my questions in a respectful manner. I wish him the best and hope I can get a word in with him from time to time wherever he winds up.
Now then, let’s move onto a few other items. First off, it is still very hard to get a good read on the Oregon men’s basketball team. The Ducks looked ready to take on the upper tier of the Pac-12 conference on Thursday with a solid 78-67 win against Stanford.
Unfortunately, Oregon didn’t follow up on that performance on Sunday in a deflating 77-60 loss to Cal. Head coach Dana Altman didn’t hesitate listing the reasons for the defeat.
“There were a number of things we needed to work on,” he said. “We had the opportunities, but we gave up easy baskets. The tempo favored Cal in the second half and they had it going for them.”
No question about it. The Ducks battled the Bears for 20 minutes, and only trailed 30-27 at halftime. Then Allen Crabbe got hot for Cal, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. At the same time, Oregon simply couldn’t match them shot for shot.
But perhaps the real reason the Ducks dropped a tough one at Matt Knight Arena was the inconsistent play of Devoe Joseph. The 6’4 guard could do no wrong against the Cardinal when he led all scorers with 30 points.
Yet on Sunday, Joseph had trouble getting it going early and only had five points in the first half (and a total of 14 on the night).
If this talented, but young, Oregon team is going to find its way into postseason, they’ll need to get some more consistency from Joseph as well as get a little tougher on defense. This coming week will be a challenge for them as they head on the road to play the Arizona schools.
Should they get a split on that trip, they might just keep themselves in the race for a very reachable Pac-12 title. I certainly like the potential of this team. If they can play like they did against Stanford, then they’ve got a very decent shot at getting Oregon’s first NCAA bid since 2008. But they’ve got to clean up their mistakes sooner than later.
When it comes to the Oregon women’s basketball team, however, I’m not as sold. Sure, those Ducks have an overall 9-7 record, but are 1-3 in Pac-12 play. Moreover, they games they’ve lost haven’t been close. They got pasted 90-67 on Saturday against Cal, and were walloped 93-70 two night prior at Stanford. (Though, in fairness, almost everyone loses badly to the Cardinal these days).
For Oregon to have any chance to be successful on a given evening, they’ll need to have both Nia Jackson and Amanda Johnson healthy. They recently got back Jackson, but Johnson is still out with an injured thumb.
Thus, for an otherwise very young squad, wins are going to be very hard to come by. If anyone can eventually turn this program around, head coach Paul Westhead is more than capable. But it looks like season number three of the rebuilding project is going to be a very long one indeed.
Switching to the prep level, the Sheldon boys seem to be putting things together. On Thursday, the Irish prevailed over Marist 66-64. They’re now 3-1 in the Midwestern League play, and it looks like head coach Ron Lampe has another solid squad on his hands. Time will tell as the season goes on, but with Connor Strahm and Dillon Miller as spectacular on the court as they are on the gridiron, you’ve got to like their chances down the stretch.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.