When it comes to college basketball, most fans focus on star power and the celebrity of a team. Several NBA franchises are even suspected of ”tanking” their seasons to increase their chances of drafting incoming stars who have only played a small handful of college-level games. Every year, sports analysts and wannabe sports analysts (ahem, my friends) gather around the television set or radio to sit in awe of the Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas teams of the world.
But what about the teams that don’t have Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle? What about the teams that utilize fundamentals and team ball for the greater good? For Oregon men’s basketball, it is more about their plan than who they are.
Oregon’s early success can be credited to a number of factors, but the observant fan can see the impact the team’s tenacious transfers have had. Dana Altman is renowned for his peculiar recruiting, often with an emphasis on nontraditional recruits like junior college transfers, but this year is special. Dana Altman has managed to compile an entire team so hungry that they are practically starving. The first four games alone show that the men on this year’s team - especially standout transfers like Joseph Young and Mike Moser - are playing to win the game.
By saying that the Oregon transfers are hungry, I don’t mean that their Thanksgiving dinners came up short. I mean hungry in the sports sense - a team or player that really, really wants to win. The common viewer might think that every competitor always wants to win, and most competitors will agree, but that simply isn’t true. Year after year we can see players that lollygag their way around the court or field, giving minimal effort in an attempt to accomplish whatever they can.
Go watch an Oregon’s men’s basketball game! These guys play to win, and if they don’t win, they will have exerted blood, sweat and tears trying. Don’t ask me. Don’t ask Dana Altman. Just look at the figures or analyze it for yourself. Although hunger isn’t exactly measureable, we can look at the top five secondary effects of Altman’s genius in gathering the nation’s top transfers.
1) The Stretch Four
In basketball, there’s a highly-coveted position gaining increasing national attention - the stretch four. The stretch four is a power forward, or four-spot, than can sufficiently handle the regular duties of a power forward such as rebounding and playing big alongside the center, while also stretching the floor. By stretching the floor we mean that the stretch four is able to hit at a high mark from fifteen feet and beyond. Former UNLV star transfer Mike Moser does exactly this as he is shooting around 40% from the arc. When the stretch four, or Mike Moser, poses a threat on the outside it gives the post and penetrating players more room to make plays. Altman excels because he realizes this effect and plays off of it. Moser starts at that four spot but hardly any opposing fours are capable of limiting both his inside and outside prowess.
Along with the four being able to shoot, the rest of the team can shoot as well. My father always told me that teams will always need a defender and a shooter; Oregon has the latter. This is obvious after just minutes of watching Jason Calliste or Joseph Young, both transfers, but even in Abdul-Bassit’s limited minutes this season, we can see that ability in him as well. Altman’s shooters, again, space the floor while making the opponent constantly fear over-helping.
With these many gifted players, it’s potentially difficult to find minutes for everyone, but Altman has practically extended his starting lineup to eight pkayers by giving heavy minutes to transfers Calliste, Elgin Cook, and Richard Amardi. This makes for a deep and diverse basketball team. Altman can quickly plug in different players for different situations, which works to keep the opponent on their toes and maintain a high energy level for his guys.
Arguably the most identifiable trait of basketball transfers is their experience. Experience in basketball is highly important and non-trainable; it comes with court time. We see this on our team in three ways. First, we often get to the free throw line. Some of the transfers like Young, Calliste, and Cook excel at penetrating and making contact in a way that forces the referee blow the whistle. It is obvious why we like this: free throws are easy money. Second, experienced ballers know how to move the rock. From watching Oregon this year, we might see efficient point guard Johnathan Loyd swing the ball four or five times before a shot goes up. This doesn’t slow down the offense by any means, but what it does do is allow for the best shot instead of the first shot. Lastly, these transfers know how to close out a game. No matter how shaky the start might be, experience keeps the players calm so they can end the show with emphasis. Oregon has been giving out so-so first halves but crushes teams in the second. Altman is fully utilizing his team’s experience by starting three transfers and consistently bringing three off the bench.
5) Joseph Young
It would be heart-breaking for me to talk about our transfers without mention Joseph Young. Young is leading the team in both minutes and points, and the kid can flat-out hoop. Exhibiting the coveted triple threat, Young can shoot, drive or kick it out to teammates, if need be. Young played well at Houston last year but he is bringing star power to the Ducks that we haven’t seen in years past.
So with all these transfers playing well, we have to wonder what will happen to the other guys. Although Loyd and Damyean Dotson have been starting, their presence is being a little over-shadowed by the new players. More importantly, what will happen to everyone’s minutes when standout guard Dominic Artis returns? Will Ben Carter or Arik Armstead get time when they can play? These are some of the questions Dana Altman will have to answer in the near future, but we should feel confident and excited to see it all play out.
Indeed, Oregon basketball games have become hunger games, where the players play to win. Why they are so hungry for success I can’t tell you, but Altman seems to know it when he sees it. He continues to bring in these guys who want to play his style of basketball and succeed in doing so. Also, their hunger seems to trickle down to the other players. In fact, the entire team looks like they are always giving their all, and that is all we can really ask for. Maybe the transfers are hungry because this is their chance to prove they can play in the Pac-12 conference? Maybe they’re hungry because Altman inspires them to be? Whatever the case, now that the regular football season is over, it’s time to sit back and let the games begin.