Speechless. That’s the best word that describes how most of us feel about the Ducks’ success this season. Prior to the season beginning, Oregon had only four players on its roster, and they were all guys returning from the year before. Two of them, Joseph Young and Elgin Cook, were legitimate threats, and the other two ( Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Theo Friedman) were question marks.
This squad was set up for failure from the beginning, with everyone doubting them each and every moment. The recruiting class coming in wasn’t considered “talented,” the scandal going on didn’t create a positive image, and with only two starter-quality returnees, there was no chance in anyone’s mind that the Ducks would be sitting comfortably in third place in the Pac-12 standings.
But with all of the non-believers out there, there was one person who stood with his chest puffed out, confident, and believing that his team had the heart to surpass people’s expectations this season. That person is Coach Dana Altman.
Coach isn’t new to the game of basketball, people. He’s had 18 consecutive winning seasons, something only few coaches in Division I basketball have the privilege to say. He knows the game inside and out, and his knowledge and belief in his system is the reason why the Ducks are silencing the critics so far this season. Altman understood that his talent wasn’t as good as what he’d hoped for this season, there’s no doubt about that. But, that didn’t mean he was going to give up on the season. “Give up” is simply not in Coach Altman’s vocabulary.
Dana Altman got to know his guys prior to the season during practices and workouts. He was able to get a good feeling for where each player belonged on the team, both mentally and skill-wise. As each game approached, it was a new game of chess for him, trying to find the right pieces that would work to get the “W.” Given that everything Coach Altman does for this program is astonishing, why did we even begin to question his team this year? You could give him a team of Division II athletes and he’d probably make them into a solid Division I squad.
That being said, with all of the success Coach Altman has produced, specifically this year, you have to give credit not only to the man in charge, but to his workers who believed. The players bought into his philosophies and game-planning from the very beginning. Had they not, the Ducks wouldn’t be in the great position they’re in at the moment.
Guys knew playing time would be difficult to come by, because Coach Altman wanted to keep a small rotation of about seven guys. But that didn’t bother his players; in fact, it made them hungrier. New faces like Dwayne Benjamin, Jordan Bell, and Dillon Brooks came into the program willing to fight for their spots, and fight for wins.
That’s what Altman saw that we as fans couldn’t see. That’s the behind-the-doors stuff that separates his knowledge of the game from ours. He knew what he was doing all along, and he wouldn’t tell us his secrets. But then again, why should he? Coach Altman didn’t want to spoil any surprises.
The Ducks are on a roll, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue. However, one of the biggest things the Ducks are missing is a louder crowd. So please, give them a chance. They’re fighting for the same school that we support every second for its football success. Give the basketball program a chance to win your loyalty too. More importantly, come out and cheer your butts off for these guys, they deserve it!
Top photo by John Sperry