Yes, hoops season is finally here. Every team is undefeated, and optimism runs high.
In basketball, the Ducks are a bonafide contender again for the BIG Dance under the tutelage and direction of Dana Altman and staff. In his eighth season at Oregon, a tradition of winning and excellence has been established. It wasn’t always that way.
Time travel back to his first year here. EJ Singler was at Wing, 6’4″ Joevan Catron was your “Big”, and 5’11″ JR Strowbridge was your SG. Coach and staff cobbled together a seventh place Pac-10 and a 21-18 record — plus a CBI (can play basketball?) championship over Creighton, his former gig, no less. Those Ducks over-achieved. Since then, the trajectory has been nothing but up. Every season ended with 24 or more wins, and the last three seasons ended with ninety. Yup, “you’re making me dizzy” (Tommy Roe, 1962). What a great hire and record, and not a bad 45 vinyl either!
Try 187-70 on for size at Duckdum. With a healthy Chris Boucher flushing those soft high lobs, making two or three wide-open, second-half three-point attempts (one for 10), or getting a call for shoving Jordan Bell out of bounds (an obvious missed foul) with seconds left in the semis, glory like 39 may have been ours! Shoulda-coulda-woulda. We have turned the page.
Coaches in this conference and nationwide know to bring their A-game to beat “our Heroes.” Here are some of the reasons the Ducks under coach Altman are such a tough out:
- He’s an excellent game manager and known as an X’s and O’s master. He sees tendencies and exploits them.
- He uses multiple defenses to confuse: man, match-up zones, zone press, box and one, and one-two-two.
- He’s a great confidence builder. He gives players the green light, putting them in positions to thrive. He teaches driving lanes, attack alleys, coming off the screen, how to finish above the rim, the kick out, fast breaks, drop step, the jump stop crossover, step back J, and the back door cut, just to name a few.
4. He’s got connections with Mike Mennenga, Canada, and Tony Stubblefield, USA — both very accomplished recruiters.
5. He’s a terrific teacher and delegator of staff. With players, he builds unity, cohesion, trust and accountability. With each crop of ballers, he molds consistent winners, instilling self confidence and assurance on the hardwood.
6. Finally, dancing each year (five in a row) is a healthy expectation habit and prevents the dreaded “deer in the headlights” when on the big stage. They’ve ”been there done that” ad neauseam during March Madness.
What Are the Challenges This New Team Faces?
D: Defense — defending the rim without a proven shot blocker. (Bell and Boucher were the best ever.) Teams got a real taste of leather last season! Who will protect the iron and glass this year and send that weak stuff outta of here? We need a perimeter stopper too. Remember Dylan Ennis?
U: Understanding new player roles and the specific modified system that will be implemented for them to attack the hoop in space and defend inside and outside.
C: Crunch time captain, making the big time play or the crucial big shot, when absolutely needed. Think Dillan Brooks or Tyler Dorsey. Who will it be this year?
K: Killer instinct — putting the opposition away (closing the door) and avoiding opposition scoring runs is a learned team skill. Will they be tough enough?
S: Synergy, sharing, supporting, then shining in the moment, when your turn comes. Patience and trust will be the successful byproduct. We call ’em wins!
With eight new players, the Ducks are simply reloading. How sweet it will be, although not so much for our opponents. This quote is prescient:
“Good things come to those who wait. Better things come to those who go out and get them!” — Anonymous
Move on Over Arizona and UCLA. We Have Arrived!
Who then will light the candle that burns bright for another successful season? Obviously Payton Pritchard as point will lead, penetrate, distribute and hit open shots early on. He’s a proven commodity. Our two senior studs from other programs, Elijah Brown and MyKyle McIntosh, know how to score from outside and get to the rim and finish. Will they learn to play our defense and establish their identity without subsuming other newbies? Troy Brown with his five-star talent and ball IQ just needs time and confidence to be a game dominator.
Three other freshman have tremendous upside. Victor Bailey, Kenny Wooten and Abu Kigab will demonstrate flashes of athletic ability. Redshirts bigs Paul White and MJ Cage know the system after a year in the program to establish rim protection and boards. Our HC, simply put, has top-end talent! He is cautiously bridling expectations yet knows that with high end performance, the sky is the limit.
With all this hype and blather, a great season seems assured, right? Adversity always rears its ugly head. Injury, disaffection, pillaging by players, a blow-out loss will all surely test our teams mettle (Baylor last season). How they respond together is crucial for success. Last season’s deep run to the semifinals is a rare occurrence. However, this coaching staff and current cast of players will again reach dizzying heights of fun and accomplishment! Go Ducks!
Steven E Smith
Powell Butte, Oregon
Top photo credit: Craig Strobeck