Interesting note from ESPN's Andy Katz over the weekend:
Dismissed Wake Forest center Tony Woods decided to sign with Oregon, his AAU coach Norman Parker told ESPN.com Friday night, a decision that will immediately help the Ducks compete for a potential top four finish in the inaugural Pac-12 in 2011-12.
Think about where we were in the last two years of Ernie Kent's tenure, finishing 10th and 9th in the conference while having a roster that had zero balance. Think of where we were when Altman was hired, suffering a mass exodus of players with transfer after transfer. And even where we were after the season ended, while having hope for a distant future with talented players coming in, but still knowing that next season would likely be another building season after the graduations of Joevan Catron and Jay-R Strowbridge and the transfers of Malcolm Armstead and Teondre Williams.
We thought this would be a five year rebuilding job. Now, one of the sport's preeminent writers talks about a top four finish with a straight face. The point isn't that we should raise our expectations accordingly, or even that such a finish is likely, but a testament to the fantastic job that Dana Altman has done, having solved the talent gap and the gross class imbalance in such a short time.
We all fell in love with the style and work ethic of last year's team that, while short on talent, cobbled together a season that far surpassed expectations on grit and hustle. However, only five players will return from last year's team in EJ Singler, Tyrone Nared, Garrett Sim, Johnathan Loyd, and Jeremy Jacob. We also know about next year's touted freshman class, headlined by five-star shooting guard Jabari Brown, and also including guards Brett Kingma (a three point sharpshooter in the James Davis mold), combo guard Bruce Barron, and a 6'9" post in Austin Kuemper. However, the potential for next year lies in the way Altman was able to get transfers in to replace the players who transferred out and, like the Jay-R Strowbridge transfer last season, find players who are not only talented, but can play right away. Here's a quick look at the incoming group:
C - Tony Woods - Jr. -- Woods comes in from Wake Forest, and is a controversial transfer after leaving Wake Forest follwing a domestic dispute with his girlfriend (though to clear up some confusion from last weekend's thread, he was NOT kicked out of Wake Forest, but asked to be released from his scholarship). Regardless of where you stand on allowing Woods into the program, its a boon to Oregon in a basketball sense. Standing at 6'11", he's Oregon's biggest player in many years, and immediately gives the Ducks a presence in the middle. I asked Martin Rickman of SBN's Wake Forest blog Blogger So Dear for a summary of Woods' game, and this he had to say:
Tony is...still raw. He doesn't have the best hands and has a real propensity to get into foul trouble. But he's strong, and if he can value the basketball and stay on the floor, it is really not out of the question for him to put up 12 and 8 a game. He looked like he was ready to take a jump to the next level after the 2010 NCAA Tournament, and assuming he has continued to work hard, the potential is still there for him to be a very productive and valuable post player.
He didn't light the world on fire at Wake Forest, and hasn't played basketball in a year (which is why he is eligible immediately), but many schools, including Louisville, Kentucky, and Texas were lining up to offer a scholarship to this kid. If he comes in with a good attitude and can fulfill some of that potential, it bodes very well for Oregon.
PF - Olu Ashaolu- Sr. -- Ashaolu is a kid coming out of Louisiana Tech who is eligible to play right away due to the "Jeremiah Masoli" rule. A 6'7" forward, he averaged 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Bulldogs, and was offered by Texas and Xavier. This is a guy who was an all defensive player in the WAC and is very similar to Joevan Catron (though probably a better rebounder and defender).
SG - Devoe Joseph - Sr. -- Joseph actually transferred from Minnesota in the middle of last season, and won't be eligible until December. He shoots about 38% from three but, more importantly for this team, can create some things with the ball in his hands.
SF - Carlos Emory - Jr. -- Emory is a JUCO transfer who had offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Utah, Baylor, and West Virginia. He averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds in junior college last season, despite suffering a bout of colitis that caued him to lose 30 pounds during the season. Here is what Emory had to say about Altman's style:
It’s a great style for me, because those are things I love to do," he said. "I love to press, I love to get deflections, I love to get the ball up and dunk it like (Oregon’s) Tyrone Nared. And I love to shoot the ball. That’s my style of play.
C - Chris Larson - Jr. -- Larson is a 6'11" center who had scholarship offers from Troy and Florida Gulf Coast. Thing is, however, Altman convinced him to spurn those offers and walk-on at Oregon. He's a project, but you can't teach 6'11", and you can afford to take projects, especially if you're not giving up a scholarship for them.
So here is Oregon's likely starting lineup for next season:
C Tony Woods, PF Olu Ashaolu, SF EJ Singler, SG Jabari Brown, PG Johnathan Loyd
With a bench of Joseph, Emory, Sim, Nared, Jacob, Barron, Kingma, Kuemper, and Larson
All of a sudden, Oregon field an immensely talented squad, and a very experienced one, too, with five seniors and three juniors. Once you see the talent on the squad, you see the basis of Katz' claims. The talent upgrade over last year is nothing short of amazing. If these guys play as hard as that squad did, the sky really is the limit.