Oregon Ducks

Forging Future Oregon Ducks

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We are among the fortunate here in Oregon.  We have a beautiful state filled with amazing places and people.  We are among the fortunate here in Eugene.  We have a city filled with culture and variety and a truly impressive capacity and love of sports of all forms.

While we all felt disappointment over the post Marcus Mariotta football team performance, we all felt the pride of our Men’s Basketball team making it to the Final Four.  We all cheered for our Duck Women as they entered the Sweet 16 and began crushing their competition and moving on to the Elite 8.  If you were paying attention to the Prep sports scene you cheered for the amazing performances of our newest crop of High School athletes.

Back behind the roar of the crowds, the pervasive College sports coverage, we discovered another team of note: one dedicated to fostering the very finest of skills and growth at a level rarely seen here outside of Prep and College team sports:  This is a look at the future of Oregon women’s basketball.

To give you an idea of who they are, this team won the all state competition up in Portland and are the current State of Oregon AAU Champions.  This women’s basketball team has crushed their competition in every tournament they have played in with blowout victories over more experienced, bigger and long standing teams.  This last weekend this astounding team won a tournament that pitted them against the equivalent of a Division 3 team playing a Division 1 team.  Here are just some of their accomplishments over the last couple of months:

  • OAB Champions  – Dec.17/18 2016
  • OAB Co-champions – Feb 4, 2017
  • OAB Champions – Feb 25-26 2017
  • Columbia Gorge Classic – Junior NBA Champions – March 4-5 2017
  • AAU Champions – Mar 18/19 2017
  • OAB Champions – April 15, 2017

I’m talking about the Willamette Valley Ducks.  A 5th Grade young women’s basketball team with really big dreams…National Championship dreams.

Eugene’s own 2017 Women’s 5th Grade AAU State Champions.

Two years ago these girls were playing in a YMCA league.  The spark was there, the raw talent was there, but Keith Morris, father of team forward Kayla and the girls original coach, saw an opportunity with the Amateur Athletic Union to help these young athletes reach for the next level.  He recruited Steve Schpankyn, and Ryan Hosek to assist in developing the girls skills.

Using a unique multi-head-coach arrangement, the three set out to mentor, teach and train this group of talented 5th graders into a cohesive and skilled team.  They not only accomplished this goal, they inspired these young women to rise to the top of their league.

Team founder Keith Morris

Watching the girls at practice, it was clear this group of athletes have focus.  Many of their handling drills look like what you see at the High School level; and done well.  They are a happy bunch of young women and not above a little showing off.  It’s surprising to see some of the height that these girls already have:  Cole Brown looks like she’s an inch away from joining a high school frosh team.

Somebody noticed the camera aimed her way…

Every one of the girls we spoke to expressed happiness at being on the team (and how much they loved winning).

“Last year we didn’t do so well, a lot of us had never really played on a serious team before” said Ross.

It doesn’t show.  I caught the WV Ducks AAU Championship playoff games up in Hood River and, while I’m admittedly not much of a basketball fan, I found myself cheering for the sheer intensity these girls played with.  The final game of the series was played against a team they had lost to in an earlier round.  The focus they came into the game with showed as they proceeded to shutdown the opposing team: steals, rebounds, clean shooting and great communication caused no end of frustration for their opponents.  It was easy to forget you were watching 5th graders.

Great ball handling, communication and focus are hallmarks of the WV Ducks.

Talking to team Mom and the Treasurer for the teams founding group, The Willamette Valley Basketball Association, Jenna Jacober:

Team mom Jenna Jacober with daughter and WV Ducks center Cole Brown

“We are so proud of these girls.  They play with determination and a team spirit that is really fun to watch and be a part of.  I believe that they can win the Nationals.”  Jacober said.

U of O Men’s Basketball Asst. Coach Mike Mennenga

“Most recently, Michael Mennenga Men’s Assistant Basketball Coach at University of Oregon has joined the effort. His daughter Nyla just joined the team and Coach Mennenga is very excited to be a part of our outfit and will be lending a hand with practice from time to time.” said Jacober.

Talking with Coach Steve Schpankyn about the progress the team has been making,

“We’ve all come together in the last say calendar year and the girls have found their stride and progressed, each kid is finding their momentum at different times and moments and we’ve come together as a team and a family.  This is probably the most together I’ve ever seen our team by connected.” said Schpankyn.

Coach Steve Schpankyn (and wife)

“The girls are so into their game that we actually have a hard time controlling them at practice, our practices are so physical, sometimes the girls get wrapped up in each other”, Steve said.

Watching the girls workout, it was easy to see what he was talking about.

Coach Morris gave us a little more about the decision to become a road team and compete in the AAU:

“We have great kids, we’re developing our kids, we want them to be able to live up to their potential playing against the highest level competition possible” Keith said. “All the kids are special, all the kids are learning and having fun. It’s good to see our efforts, and theirs paying off.”

It’s clear the coaches plans is a winner.

Coach Ryan Hosek agrees,

“It’s a pleasure coaching these girls, they learn quickly and have really found the inner strength required to be really good at this sport.” Hosek said.  “We are also very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff and the support of our parents and community, I’m honored to be a part of this team.”

Head Coach Ryan Hosek

Now that the WV Ducks have won the State Championship, the road gets much harder, and more expensive.  With no existing foundations to support teams like the WV Ducks, the job of funding the team and getting them to their road games falls, as it so often does, to the parents.  While all the coaches graciously donate their time, and local schools donating gym space for team practices help to keep the burden low, travelling to Ohio for the National Championships is an entirely different level of support.

In response, the WVBA registered as an Oregon 501(c)3 and immediately set out to raise funds for the girls.

If you support young women’s athletics, and would like to help see these girls give it their best to bring home the National Championship, you can lend your support at the teams GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/willamettevalleyducks

 

March Madness: Welcome Oregon women’s basketball to the Big Dance

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March Madness
March Madness

SEATTLE – Any doubts about Oregon women’s basketball’s inclusion to the NCAA Tournament were thoroughly snuffed out Friday in Key Arena.

Sophomore guard Maite Cazorla and freshman Ruthy Hebard contested Kelsey Plum’s shot at the buzzer, hanging on for a 70-69 victory over rival Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.

Plum, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 34 points. But it wasn’t enough as the No. 3 seed Huskies (27-5, 15-3 conference) fell in front a largely friendly crowd of nearly 10,000.

The Ducks, which moved to 20-13, 8-10, on the season Saturday with a loss to perennial power Stanford in the semifinals, did enough to punch their proverbial tickets by up ending border rival Washington.

In their previous meeting of the season, a 99-77 shellacking at Matt Knight Arena on Dec. 30, gave little hope of an Oregon bounce back.

But bounce it did, right out of the bubble and into solid tournament placement.

The Ducks résumé is finito. Written, spell checked – signed, sealed and delivered. Now the waiting begins.

While the Oregon men’s basketball team carries its No. 1 seed into the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, the women have a week off to wait for Selection Sunday.

There’s no doubt both Ducks teams will be dancing. The only question is will there be any ill will with seeding for the Big Dance.

It’s safe to assume the women, which haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2005, will wind up somewhere in the 6-8 range.

But hey, with a friendly committee it wouldn’t be outlandish to see the Ducks as high as a five. And an unfavorable one could drop them as low as a nine or even a double digit.

Their RPI is No. 34, which doesn’t do their body of work justice. But really, when does a computer ranking?

That’s the fun of March Madness, right?

As for the men, their fate is a little more certain.

Oregon men's basketball
Oregon men’s basketball

Their No. 5 ranking would lead to believe they’re sitting on the cusp of back to back No. 1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament – Oregon reached the elite eight last year as the West’s top seed.

Should it win out, a one would almost be certain. That is unless the selection committee buys into the all powerful, benevolent RPI.

Yes, according to ESPN, Oregon is only No. 14 in the latest RPI rankings. That’s one spot behind UCLA, the highest ranked team, which just so happens to be ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll.

Even more surprisingly, Arizona, who seems to be in the top 10 in every human poll/power ranking, is only No. 23 in the RPI.

Riddle me that, please…

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Ducks as the No. 2 seed from the west. A trip to Sacramento wouldn’t be the worst thing for a Pacific Northwest squad.

And, in my very humble opinion, Gonzaga is the weakest of those No. 1 seeds.

NCAA Tournament
NCAA Tournament

I’ll take it. Oh yeah, I’ll take an underdog role.

How weird is that, really, that a No. 2 seed is considered a slight to Oregon basketball.

Just five years ago, as an up and coming Dana Altman prepared to take over a mediocre Ducks program, the idea of back to back tournament appearances would have been enough for Phil Knight to donate another *insert ridiculous amount of money* check to the program.

Now, and maybe it’s just how bad Oregon football has been the past two years, but fans are already spoiled, entitled hoops fans.

This column certainly rambled and got away from my original message of “wow – just check out what these Lady Ducks are doing.”

Both Oregon teams haven’t gone dancing the same March in 17 years. Both teams are having unprecedented years for different reasons.

Make no mistake, this could end up being the best March Madness in Oregon history. So let’s make sure we appreciate it for what it really is.

The move to, dare I say, becoming a basketball school?

College basketball rankings: Oregon Ducks rightly back in top 5

College Basketball Rankings
College Basketball Rankings via ESPN

For the first time since November, the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team is back in the top five of the Associated Press top 25.

The latest college basketball rankings were released Monday morning. Unsurprisingly, the Ducks (21-3, 10-1 Pac-12) moved up 8 spots to No. 5 after a dominating 27-point victory against a highly ranked Arizona Wildcats ( 21-3, 10-1) team last week.

Oregon opened the season with lofty expectations and a No. 5 ranking, but two early loses nearly dropped the reigning elite representatives out of the top 25 altogether.

Star guard Dillon Brooks returned from injury, and head coach Dana Altman and co. have orchestrated one of the best runs in program history. The Ducks boast the longest active home winning streak at 40 games, which moved to first place when then No. 2 Kansas was shocked at home against unranked Iowa State on Saturday.

Oregon has won 19 of its last 20 games, non bigger than the dismantling of the Wildcats to move into a tie for first place in the conference.

Considering the absence, and slow return, of Brooks early in the season, when the Ducks dropped two of its first four games, voters took way too long to bring Oregon back into the top of the rankings.

It wasn’t until last week that the Ducks cracked the top 10, and it only took a blowout victory over Arizona and losses by six of the top 10 ranked teams for Oregon to move back where it belongs – in the top five.

College Basketball Rankings
College Basketball Rankings

ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi has the Ducks as a two seed in the west in his projected NCAA Tournament bracket. Should that hold, Oregon would face Furman in Sacramento then the winner of seventh-seeded Notre Dame and 10th-seeded Wichita State.

Altman is no stranger to highly touted team, quickly passing previous Ducks coaches as one of the best in program history.

Webfoot faithful have known all season how good the green and yellow – or black, white, etc – are, but now the nation is starting to drink the Kool Aid again.

Oregon will have another chance in the national spotlight when it hosts No. 10 UCLA (21-3, 8-3) in a rematch of Brooks’ buzzer-beater in January.

Should the Ducks make another statement, don’t be surprised to see them continuing to climb toward the top of the rankings.

Dillon Brooks flop: Was it really that bad? Yes, yes it was!

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Dillon Brooks flop
Dillon Brooks flop

Oregon Ducks basketball junior forward Dillon Brooks captured the nation’s attention last night but for all the wrong reasons.

Lost in the No. 10 Ducks’ impressive road win against the Utah Utes was an embarrassing lop by Brooks, one of college basketball’s top players.

As seen in the gifs below, Brooks absorbed a soft blow by Utah sophomore guard Sedrick Barefield. After a short pause, Brooks then falls to the ground in dramatic fashion.

Check it out and decide for yourself… Click on the image to play.

Story continues below gifs.

Dillon Brooks flop
Dillon Brooks flop
Dillon Brooks flop
Dillon Brooks flop

Now, maybe Brooks was really knocked off balance and couldn’t collective himself. But let’s be honest, this is one of the worst flops in a long time.

Below is the full video.

Oregon men’s basketball completes weekend sweep of So. Cal schools

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Oregon men's basketball
Oregon men’s basketball guard Dillon Brooks gets off a buzzer beater against UCLA on Wednesday night at Matthew Knight Arena.

Matthew Knight Arena: where unbeaten teams go to die.

It doesn’t quite have the same flair as Autzen Stadium, but the Oregon men’s basketball team took care of business this week on the national stage. After knocking the undefeated No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday night, 89-87 on a Dillon Brooks buzzer beater, the No. 21 Ducks beat another unscathed team in Eugene with a 84-61 blowout of No. 22 USC on Friday.

“We knew after Christmas, coach told us, ‘Go home, free up your mind and when you come back be focused,'” Oregon senior forward Chris Boucher said via a GoDucks story. “We knew coming back it would be a tough stretch and we had two undefeated teams to beat.”

Brooks’ shot against the Bruins reminded many of the 2006 shot by former Ducks standout Aaron Brooks, a game-winner against then unbeaten and and top-ranked UCLA.

On Friday, Oregon coach Dana Altman picked up a milestone with his 700th career win. Brooks once again carried the Ducks, scoring a team-high 28 points in just 24 minutes on the court.

It was a momentous stand by Oregon (13-2, 2-0 in Pac-12 play), which extends its home winning streak to 35 games at Matthew Night Arena, the third longest such streak in the nation.

After a less-than-ideal start to the regular season, losing two of its first five games, including a 17-point blowout at the hands of Baylor, the Ducks have won 11 straight and are sure to make a big jump in the newly updated rankings Monday.

Oregon will take on Washington and Washington State next week, its first conference road games of the season. Should the Ducks continue to pile up wins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them back in the top 10, possibly the top five, of the rankings.

Oregon BB Coach Dana Altman: “We have a tremendous amount of work to do.”

When Dana Altman told reporters that, “Trouble is eight days from today. We have to go down to Baylor and play a game.” After a 35-point victory in the team’s final exhibition, it was as if he could see into the...

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Duck Basketball Starts Fast – 5 Thoughts

Tonight the most anticipated Oregon Ducks basketball season in recent memory will begin, and the 5th-ranked Oregon Ducks will charge onto the hardwood at Matthew Knight Arena. Their goal in simple terms will be to start the season 1-0, but by...

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Oregon’s Niche in the Cycle of Pac-12 Football Dominance

Over the past 50 years or so there have been many great teams in the Pac-8/10/12, but only a few teams have risen to the top to dominate the conference over an extended time period. There are common threads among...

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Preseason Coaches Poll Shows Oregon Ducks Basketball Has Respect

Polls never really mean much. The games still have to be played, and no trophies are given out for poll rankings. That being said, the release of the preseason basketball Coaches Poll signifies that the season is right around the...

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Three Reasons Oregon-ASU Never Became a Rivalry

Amid the chaos following their game, the two coaches ran toward each other for a common ritual of their profession: the post-game handshake. While this interaction is normally brief and emotionally distant, after this particular game one coach, Arizona State’s...

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