Dana Altman: Crafting a Team

Elgin Cook goes for the dunk

The rumors of Dana Altman’s position on the coaching hot seat may be premature. After the Ducks’ demolition of Coppin State Friday night, it appears that Altman has yet again cobbled together a good team out of returning players, transfers and freshmen. Upperclassmen Joseph Young and Elgin Cook anchor the team. Both are NBA prospects and are very, very good. Young poured in 32 points, five rebounds and eight assists against the Eagles and Cook chipped in 15 points. A junior transfer, Dwayne Benjamin, held down the post and two true freshmen, Dillon Brooks and Ahmaad Rorie, played the small forward and point guard positions with each scoring in the double figures.

Photo by Donald Alarie

Donald Alarie

Casey Benson drives the lane

Perhaps the most intriguing players are the freshmen off the bench, Casey Benson and Jordon Bell. Benson, a 6’3″ combo guard, has a nice stroke from beyond the arc and can drop the midrange jumper with regularity. Watching Bell maneuver around the basket brings a young Charles Barkley to mind: a manchild still growing into his game. The eight-man rotation is completed by Jalil Abdul-Bassit, a 6’4″ senior wing who has developed into a capable sixth man.

As with past Altman teams, this one lacks height. That will be rectified when Michael Chandler enters the lineup. Chandler, a 6’10” center transfer from NW Florida State was ranked as one of the Top 5 high school centers in 2011. He’s been hobbled by injuries throughout his career, so Oregon fans are hoping he’ll fully recover soon. Even with Chandler in the lineup, Bell and Benjamin will still play out of position to man the center spot, but Altman is a master at playing small ball. Visions of 6’8″ Arsalan Kazemi sprinting up and down the floor while playing the post still bring chills to my spine.

The biggest rap on Altman is that he doesn’t manage his players well off the court. This complaint may have legs in light of the abrupt departure of five key players last season, but he’s getting help this year. Young has taken it upon himself to steady the team by mentoring the younger players and organizing various theme nights for the team. Already, the players have gotten together for cooking nights and evenings of bowling.

The Pac-12 coaches have tabbed Oregon to finish eighth in the league. With the transfers and true freshman, this team will have rough spots, but Altman is great at developing talent. Expect the Ducks to wind up league play with a flourish. A fourth place finish, or perhaps even better, isn’t out of the question.

Top Photo by Donald Alarie

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Michael Bigham

Michael Bigham

Raised in the Central Oregon mill town of Prineville beneath deep blue skies and rim rock, I attended the University of Oregon and during my collegiate summers, I worked in a lumber mill and also fought range fires on the Oregon High Desert for the Bureau of Land Management. After graduating from college at the University of Oregon, I swung from being budding hippy to cop work. I’m still wondering about how that came about. I was a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, I obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. I live in Portland, Oregon with my wife, my daughter and a spunky bichon frise named Pumpkin. I’ve had short stories publishing in two Main Street Press anthologies. Harkness is my first novel.