EJ Singler has fought for four years. He’s fought for a team that finished 2-16 in the Pac-12. He’s fought for a team that lost its head coach. He’s fought for a team that had to rely on transfers to stay afloat. He’s fought for a team in a town overshadowed by the football team.
And now he’s finally fought hard enough. Hard enough to get the Ducks to the Sweet 16.
The Ducks were never expected to make it this far in the tournament, or be in the tournament at all. They were selected to finish 7th in the Pac-12 this season and were undervalued as a 12 seed coming into the tournament
But it goes deeper than that. It goes deeper than this season. It goes back to when Singler wasn’t even supposed to play his freshman year before becoming the only Duck player to play in all 32 games because injuries ravaged the team.
After that 2-16 Pac-12 season Ernie Kent was fired – the coach who brought Oregon to two elite eight appearances and led an early 2000’s revival of Oregon. And the job didn’t turn into a hot commodity. Numerous coaches turned down the job before Dana Altman finally accepted it.
In Altman’s first season the Ducks won the the College Basketball Invitational. And then they rushed the court. Thats right the College Basketball Invitational, the CBI, that’s how desperate fans were to be excited about anything for Oregon basketball.
That first season in Matthew Knight was a beading light for the Ducks. But even with the 228 million dollar new stadium, the Ducks struggled. They struggled both with attendance and on the court. The Ducks had a losing record in conference play and suffered six and four game losing streaks.
Altman says it comes back to that first year to appreciate the Ducks success today. In that year it was Joevan Catron that led the way for Oregon scoring with 16 points a game. The next year was good, but not much better as Oregon went out in NIT.
[gn_quote style=”1″]“This is Joevan Catron the first year getting us going, he gave us something to at least start with. We owe a lot to Joevan,” Altman said. “And then the senior group last year, Garrett, Devoe, Olu, JJ, Tyrone. Those guys all are apart of this, for us.”[/gn_quote]
Altman is building the core of the Oregon team and after winning the Pac-12 tournament championship he says the team needs more success to keep striving.
“It gives the younger guys a taste of what we’re playing for,” Altman said.” “They’re standing up on the podium, we get done and I told them I want you to remember this because I want you to remember why you’re going to the gym everyday in May, June, July and August – what you’re playing for.”
Now Oregon is returning the Furs, a historic reference to the 1939 team that won the school’s only national championship in program history. The firs are a hollowed figure for all long-time Oregon fans, backed when they were the “Webfoots” who played in the Pacific Coast Conference.
On the 75th anniversary of the Tall Firs Altman is looking to get back to that level of play, just under three years since he took over as the head man in Eugene.
“When we came three years ago, we didn’t know how long it would take, especially sitting there with six guys on the roster.”
It comes down to work for Singler even with those struggles, as it always has for the Medford, Ore. native.
“We’ve definitely had some ups and downs and making it this year is an awesome feeling,” Singler said “Just so proud, how much work we’ve put in.”
Even though this is a watershed moment for Singler and Altman, their quest is not over yet, and they’ll look to prove that Friday against Louisville.