No one expected Oregon to repeat its successes of the 2016-17 basketball season that consisted of the Ducks’ first trip to the Final Four since 1939 with this most recent team. Losing four of five starters would be too much to overcome for any program.
But with a high-touted recruiting class that included Oregon’s first five-star recruit, a second-round loss in the NIT wasn’t exactly what Dana Altman had in mind.
“If you look at the last three Final Fours, none of those teams were young. we played one freshman last season,” he said. “So experience and talent, and balancing those two, is always the best.”
This year’s team was tilted towards talent and not enough experience and it showed mainly in end-of-game situations. Oregon lost a lot of close games in the final few minutes because of the lack of experience in those type of games. Hopefully that won’t be the case next season.
“I think Kenny (Wooten) will make a big jump. Paul (White) will make a big jump. Abu (Kijab) will make a big jump,” Altman said. “Those guys coming back will have a tremendous spring.”
Although Altman will have to reload the roster once again with the losses of Elijah Brown and MiKyle MacIntosh, along with Troy Brown electing to forgo his next three season and enter the NBA draft, as well Keith Smith has deciding to transfer so he can get more playing time elsewhere, Oregon will bring back talented players who now have that experience.
But first, the loss of Troy Brown is big. It wasn’t not completely unexpected, however, as many thought he would be Oregon’s first one-and-done player. There was reason to think the Las Vegas native might stick around one more year due to a lackluster season he averaged just 11.3 points a game. At 6-7 and 215 pounds, Brown already has the physical attributes to help out an NBA team, but according to Altman before he learned of Brown’s decision, another year would have helped the player and obviously the team greatly.
“He’s a talent. He’s a young guy at only 18,” Altman said of Brown. “We would have added a great deal to our ball club (next season). He does need to work on his shooting. That’s what most NBA team would want him to do.”
Altman will be looking for a prolific scorer to join junior-to-be Payton Pritchard. Whether that scorer is already in Eugene or on their way remains to be seen. For now, the leading candidate to be that guy has to be Victor Bailey, Jr.
The lefty came on in the second half of the season where he showed he was more than just a spark plug on the bench. He showed flashes early on in the non-conference schedule against teams such as Prairie View A&M (15 points), Alabama State (18 points) and Ball State (16 points) but was used primarily has a defensive stopper against the more established opponents. And like most freshmen, Bailey hit a lull.
But then he exploded for 18 points in the 94-91 win over UCLA and that just a sign of things to come. Bailey scored 13 points at Stanford and against WSU, but then hit a second wall. Suddenly however, Bailey lit up Rider for a career-high 23 points against Rider in the first round NIT win.
While Bailey and Pritchard will most likely be the scoring weapons from the outside, Duck fans have to be excited over the upcoming improvements of Wooten on the inside and his potential of being a dominate big man offensively. He’s already a dominate big man on the defensive end of the floor as the 6-9 Wooten quickly became one of the best shot blockers in the country and in the program’s history in just one season.
Wooten was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection where he led the Pac-12 and ranked 15th nationally with 2.6 blocks per game. His 92 total blocks was tied for ninth most in the NCAA this season and Wooten also ranked third on the UO single-season and the Pac-12 freshman season lists. Just to show how stellar his shot-blocking prowess was this past year, Wooten already ranks fifth on the UO career blocks list.
Having Wooten develop for another season in Eugene should pay huge dividends in 2018-19. But convincing players to stay is always an individual type thing, according to Altman.
“Everybody’s different, but we say if you do decide to come back, these are the things we need to work on. But you do what’s best for you,” he said.
Another experienced player Oregon will rely on next season is Paul White, who had an up and down season in his first campaign as a Duck. The transfer from Georgetown averaged 9.4 points a game and 3.5 rebounds. But his playing time diminished towards the end of the season due to constant foul trouble.
Despite the losses of personnel, Altman has put together the best recruiting ever in the history of the program. Every recruiting service says the Ducks have a Top 5 class coming in and some has it ranked as No. 2 in the country, so help is on the way.
Leading the incoming class might be the best player in the US and No. 2 player overall in 7-2 center Bol Bol. The son of former NBA player Manute Bol, who once stood at 7-6, the younger Bol has a different skill set than his father. Even at 7-2, he moves like he’s 6-8 and can shoot the three-pointer. Even at 225 points, Bol will need to work on his physicality and his stamina. Being much bigger than most of his prep counterparts, Bol was able to do pretty much as he wanted on the floor. But in the Pac-12, coaches will come up with ways to defend him. Still, with a arm length that extends to 9-7, Bol will be tough to stop.
Joining Bol is another 5-star recruit in small forward Louis King. At 6-8, King is ranked as the No. 5 small forward in the country and the top recruit to come out of New Jersey. To go along a deadly accurate three-point shot, King can take opponents to the basket with authority or stop-and-pop with a nice 17-foot jumper.
Will Richardson is a four-star recruit from Virginia that is a 6-4 shooting guard. He’s ranked at the fifth best shooting guard in the country coming out of Georgia. He was the third-best recruit out of that state and every SEC team wanted him, but he decided to take his talents out west.
Miles Norris, a 6-10 power forward out of New Hampshire will have a hard time cracking the lineup with Wooten and Bol in front of him, so the four-star recruit at 190 pounds might use his first year Eugene as a redshirt year to bulk up some.
With the talent coming back and the heralded class coming in, Oregon is already turning some heads and ranked as high as No. 7 in one poll. While those early expectations don’t mean a whole lot, Altman said to expect more of a national non-conference schedule as TV networks want to show off the Ducks.
~ Don Smalley