Yes, Oregon is known as a football school: the longest string of double-digit winning seasons in I-A, a logo everybody recognizes, incredible facilities …and in our corner as a major donor we even have Nike CEO Phil Knight, more commonly known around campus as “Uncle Phil.” When it comes to athletics, the toughest thing for major universities across the country to do is to strike a balance among their sports programs.
In the SEC, football dominates. In the ACC, basketball dominates. The Pac-12 has multiple schools with incredible football programs, often times taking away from attention that other sports programs deserve. There will always be the sports programs within each school that garner most of the effort and attention of school loyals. With Oregon, especially this year, the men’s basketball team has seen a drop in support.
We do not need to re-open the past, because we all know why people lost hope in the basketball team. I would be lying if I said I felt confident with the team that Head Coach Dana Altman had to work with going into this season. Diehards stick by their teams no matter what, but the prospect of this roster, with all the young guys outnumbering the more experienced veterans, succeeding in a tough basketball conference was certainly not something people felt confident about.
The 2013-2014 campaign ended with a heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin in the round of 32. The Ducks led for a good portion of the game, but in the end, they fell to a superior Badgers team by a score of 85-77.
Fast forward through the off season and all the things that happened within the basketball program. Entering this season, Oregon had a freshmen-laden lineup, with a few veterans that were expected to lead the team. Despite all the drama, the Ducks are playing very well, and are giving fans some hope.
Here are some bright spots for the Oregon Ducks this year:
1. Joseph Young
A fifth year senior, Young is the captain of this team. He boasts the most experience on the roster and it shows. A team tends to lean on the back of its leader. Young has proven that he can create his own shots, he has proven that he can help place his teammates in situations that are mutually beneficial, and he is a proven leader. I sit in the student section, more commonly known as “The Pit,” and Young interacts with the crowd, making sure that its energy is always high. He yells at students and gives them a reason to get involved. Many people felt that the Ducks did not have a defined leader coming into this season. Young has proven that he can be just that, and his services will be heavily needed as the Ducks hope to contend in the Pac-12, and ultimately secure a bid to the tournament in March.
2. The Freshmen
Young is certainly great, and all that he brings to the team is great, but the Ducks would not be succeeding without the help of its freshman class. Small forward Dillon Brooks brings an intense energy to each game. His fiery attitude is the result of ultra confidence in his game. His confidence is confined and well honed to his trade, resulting in his leading all freshman in the Pac-12 this year in scoring.
Point Guard Ahmaad Rorie, who many people feel is the future of the basketball program, is a very talented all-around player. He uses his athleticism and energy in every aspect of his game. Most importantly, Rorie realizes the position that he is in. He plays a lot, but also takes the time to learn from older guys like the previously mentioned Young, and even Elgin Cook or Dwayne Benjamin.
The future of this basketball program lies in the hands of those recently brought into it. We have already mentioned Brooks and Rorie, but one cannot forget about Casey Benson and Jordan Bell. The young guys on the roster this year are not only contributing in a major way, but they are learning a lot. What the young guys learn this year will be a major help in making this basketball program successful for many years to come.
3. Dana Altman
The success of any team is unobtainable without the help of its fearless leader. Head Coach Dana Altman, while he would never admit it, deserves a lot of the credit for his team this year. With a radically different roster coming into this year than what he was expecting, the huge task of putting a squad together that could compete in a tough division was overwhelming. Altman has passed the test with flying colors.
The team that Altman put together this year plays each game like it could be its last. Nobody in his right mind would have assumed the Ducks would be where they are today. They lead the Pac-12 in rebounding and assists, two very important statistics when determining the success of a team. With 6’10 Michael Chandler back from injury, these numbers are likely to improve.
Coach Altman has done a fantastic job putting his team in situations that maximize its strengths. He provides opportunities that allow his players to succeed. The task is not yet over, nor will it ever be, but Altman has done a good job so far, and Ducks fans should be excited for the rest of this season.
Positioned for Success
The Ducks have a legitimate basketball team. The pieces are in place this year to continue playing at a high level. It would be a massive success if the Ducks compete well in Pac-12 play and secure a berth in the tourney. Altman has done a great job recruiting young guys who can contribute to the effort now, all while learning valuable lessons that they can implement when today’s team leaders move on past college.
Tune in to the basketball team. Not only does the team need the support, but it is worth supporting because it has a bright future. This is an incredible time to be a Ducks fan….. a Rose Bowl for the football team, a Heisman trophy, and an incredible basketball team with a future brighter than the stars that light up a desert sky.
Top Photo by Donald Alarie