When Will Ducks’ B-Ball Program Match Football?
The 2011-2012 academic year was a banner season for Ducks athletics. Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, and company won the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1917. The Ducks enjoyed high levels of success on the diamond, as the softball team advanced to the Women’s College World Series, and the baseball team fell just short short of reaching a College World Series of their own. The Men’s Golf team advanced to the national semifinals, and even coach Casey Martin hit the national scene amid an improbable return to the U.S. Open.
On the hardwood, however, the Ducks’ Men’s Basketball team is a tad bit behind. That’s not to say they’ve been the Washington Generals – Dana Altman’s squad is 45-28 with a CBI Title and deep NIT run in the bag through his two year tenure – but as Oregon athletics enjoy widespread success and a seemingly never-ending funnel of funds from “Uncle Phil” Knight, the standard is higher than ever.
What might that standard be, you ask? Try titles, and by titles, I am not referring to the CBI. A Pac-12 title, and eventually, a national title are lofty but plausible goals. Lest we forget, the Ducks are only three seasons removed from an 8-23 (2-16) season that placed dead last in the the then Pac-10 conference. The program has come quite a long way from the dark ages of the late Ernie Kent era.
So what’s to say they can’t keep the momentum going?
Altman’s first concern has to be recruiting. His two years at Oregon of practicing college basketball’s most sacred art – the courting of pseudo-celebrity high school giants – have been marked by a near miss of a five-star recruit, and a disastrous two-game reign of another.
Anthony Bennett, a power forward out of Findlay Prep in Nevada, reportedly narrowed his suitors to Oregon and UNLV. Ultimately, the Canadian native and high school teammate of four-star Duck-to-be Dominic Artis chose to become a Runnin’ Rebel for the 2012-2013 season.
In 2011, Jabari Brown, a vagabond shooting guard who had switched high schools numerous times, signed with the Ducks and even suited up – for all of two games, in which he shot poorly and appeared uncomfortable within Altman’s offense. Before the third game of the season, news broke that Brown had packed his bags. In December, Brown transferred to Missouri.
If anything, the Bennett and Brown sagas prove that Altman can compete in the national recruiting market. Last year’s haul of new Ducks consisted mostly of veteran transfer players, such as Devoe Joseph and Olu Ashaolu. The pair of Canadians proved to be some of the team’s most valuable players, but because they transferred late into their college careers, they are both now playing professionally after just one season in Eugene.
The incoming freshman class is a deep, if not uncertain one for the Ducks. Led by the aforementioned Artis, a 6’1” point guard out of Findlay, it’s a group that will be heavily relied upon in the wake of a large exiting senior class that included sharpshooter Garrett Sim, big men Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob, along with Joseph and Ashaolu.
Beyond Artis are four three-star recruits. Devon Branch, a guard from Kansas, Ben Carter, a forward from Nevada, Damyean Dotson, a forward from Texas, and Willie Moore, a point guard from Ohio make up a group that shows Altman can reach far and wide for talent.
As important as a strong recruiting class for the upcoming season may be, the exiting senior class, consisting of forward E.J. Singler, big man Tony Woods, and forward Carlos Emory may cripple the Ducks even more.
Though Altman could dip into the transfer scene again for a quick fix, it’s time he starts building up the program for more significant success – like deep tournament runs. And not NIT/CBI tournaments, the NCAA Tournament. This could mean taking a small step back for a larger step forward – that step being a return to national prominence.
A bright and shiny new arena certainly will aid in the recruiting process. And as long as Knight is boosting the University of Oregon’s athletic department, there will be plenty of cash floating around for newer toys.
A Pac-12 title may not be so far away, however. Arguably the weakest of the six major conferences in recent years, the Ducks were only a win short of a share of the regular season title last season. Though a loss to Colorado cut the Oregon’s run towards a tournament title and March Madness berth, the Ducks may have been the conference’s most complete team over the final two months.
Of course, this year’s team is a much different one, with many questions to be answered in the months before basketball season, starting in November. Will Artis take the reigns right away, or is Jonathan Loyd the go-to floor general? Where will the backcourt scoring come from without Joseph and Sim’s often hot hands? Will the quintet of freshmen provide depth, or simply uncertainty?
Cliché as it is, only time will tell. Until November, we wait, twiddling our thumbs until Oregon basketball returns. Well, besides that whole football thing, that is.