New Faces Hold Keys to Ducks’ Future

The Oregon basketball media department might want to print as many programs as it can this year because fans are going to need them.

After an historic season that saw the men’s basketball team go its first Final Four since they won the national championship in 1939, the Ducks roster saw a major overhaul.

A quick glance at the 2017-18 shows just three returners from last year’s squad and the only one that saw significant playing time was sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard.

As a freshman, Pritchard had an up and down season, but when it was all said and done, the former Oregon prep player of the year averaged 7.4 points and 3.6 assists per game. Obviously those numbers need to take a major uptick and they should. As the most experienced player for a very young Duck team, Pritchard is now a leader.

“I think Payton will have a heck of a year. I really do. He’s worked awfully hard in the offseason,” said head coach Dana Altman. “He’s much more comfortable this year. A year ago, you know, like any freshman, just moving away from home. A lot of anxiety about making the jump. He’s such a competitor and wants to be successful.”

It’s going to be difficult to replace the majority of the scoring and rebounds that is now gone. Somehow the Ducks will need to fill in the production that was left by the likes of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher. The first three left early for the NBA and Boucher was a senior.

Brooks was the Pac-12 Player of the Year with his 16 points per game. Dorsey was Mr. March where he dominated the NCAA tournament with a five-game performance for the ages. During the regular season, the now Atlanta Hawk averaged nearly 15 points per game while shooting over 42 percent from long range. But during the tourney, Dorsey’s numbers elevated to 24 points per contest and he shot 20-for-39 from three-point range.

Bell’s draft stock skyrocketed thanks to a stellar NCAA tournament. With Boucher out due to injury, the current Golden State Warrior averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds per game, as well as 16 total blocks.

Replacing legends is never easy, but Altman picked a good time to bring in his highest rated recruiting class in his nine seasons in Eugene. The coach might have had an inkling he needed to do his best recruiting work before last season even started, but pulling it off is another thing.

Depending on what source one looks at, the Ducks have one of the top classes in the country and leading that class is Troy Brown. The Las Vegas native is a five-star recruit with a scout grade of 93 according to ESPN and was ranked 18th in their top 100, including being the fifth-ranked overall small forward for 2017. The 6-foot-7 small forward was a McDonald’s All-American last season and he managed to score 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in that game.

Whether Brown is Oregon’s very first a one-and-done player and enters the NBA draft next June remains to be seen, but just having a player like that on the roster says a lot for where the Duck program is headed.

But Brown won’t be the only freshman that is expected to make a major impact on this squad that is supposed to be one of transition. Kenny Wooten from Manteca, Calif. The 6-9 center was rated as the No. 6 center in the west by and as the nation’s 89th overall recruit. He played for Manteca High for just one year, but in that lone season, Wooten Shot 66 percent from the field while averaging 13.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per game. Proving he can come up big in big games, Wooten poured in 26 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and swatted away 10 shots in the 2016 CIF State Division III Championship title Ayala.

Also on the roster and not to be forgotten is redshirt freshman MJ Cage, the son of former NBA player Michael Cage. The 6-10 center was primed to make an impact last season before suffering from concussion symptoms that forced him off the floor. But now Cage is ready to go and Oregon is going to need his presence in the middle.

He averaged 14.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as a senior for Mater Dei High School where they won the California state title in 2015.

It wouldn’t be a Dana Atlman team if there were some key transfers on the team and the coach might have put together his best group of transfers, led by former New Mexico lobo Elijah Brown.

The 6-4 shooting guard was a two-time all-Mountain West Conference honoree as he led UNM in scoring as both a sophomore and junior. Brown was a 2017 all-MWC second-teamer by averaging18.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season.

Junior Paul White comes to Eugene after two seasons at Georgetown where he was a role player his freshman season and was injured for much of his sophomore year. He sat out last season, but White was a Top 50 recruit coming out of high school in Chicago for a team that won the Illinois state title. White averaged 22 points, nine boards and six assists his senior season.

Rounding out the transfers is 6-7 forward MiKyle McIntosh, who comes to the Ducks via Illinois State. He was a second-team all Missouri Valley Conference performer as a junior where he averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.

“I think we’re very fortunate again to get two grad transfers that moved up. All our grad transfers that we’ve been fortunate enough to get have all been guys that want to try it,” Altman said. “The Power Five schools want to kind of — Elijah being from New Mexico and MiKyle from Illinois State, you know, just wanted to see how it would go. So it’s been really easy getting those guys adjusted because of their maturity and the fact that they’ve been there, done that before. So that’s been pretty easy.”

Although there are nine newcomers and everyone is still not sure who fits where, the media picked the Ducks to finish fourth in the Pac-12.

“I think guys want to be successful. They want to be part of the team,” Altman said. “All 351 teams want to go to the NCAA Tournament. So it’s just a willingness on their part, a maturity on their part to make sacrifices for the team. Every guy has got to do that. I’m hoping this group will be like the last seven that we’ve had at Oregon.”

The Ducks begin the 2017-18 season with their what’s turned into an annual exhibition with Northwest Christian Oct. 30 before hosting Coppin State Nov. 10 in the first counting game.

Some schedule highlights include the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland over Thanksgiving weekend where Oregon opens up with UConn Nov. 23. Oregon would then play either DePaul or Michigan State the following evening.

Pac-12 play begins Dec. 29 with Utah and Colorado (Dec. 31) coming to town. The first Civil War matchup with the Beavers will be in Corvallis Jan. 5 before the Arizona schools await in the desert in the next week. Oregon hosts UCLA Jan. 20 before the second Civil War Jan. 27.

The conference tournament in Las Vegas will be March 7-10.

  ~ Don Smalley