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Next season's freshmen will define Dana Altman's tenure at the helm of Oregon Basketball

Dana Altman needs to keep more players in Eugene if he is going to lead this program long-term.
Dana Altman needs to keep more players in Eugene if he is going to lead this program long-term.

This is a story that I don't want to write.

I don't want to write it for several reasons. I have loved the on-court play of the Oregon basketball team the last two seasons. They play fundamentally sound basketball. They run a multi-dimensional offense that doesn't implode when one player is having an off game. They put forth tremendous effort defensively. Dana Altman's on court record through two years at Oregon has lived up to every promise that we realistically had the right to expect given the shape of the program when he took over.

The way he has done it has been impressive as well. The careers and legacies of previously underperforming Joevan Catron and Garrett Sim were completely transformed under Altman's tutelage. He found players like Jay-R Strowbridge and Devoe Joseph on the transfer scrap heap, turning Strowbridge into a decent Pac-12 player, Joseph into an outstanding one. He has convinced elite level high school talent to come to Oregon when you look at the signings of Jabari Brown and Dominic Artis.

The problem, of course, has been holding onto that talent, and the recent transfer out of the program of Brett Kingma is just another in the long line of player exodus in the Altman regime. Of the six scholarship freshmen that Altman has recruited to Eugene, just two remain on campus (Johnathan Loyd and Austin Kuemper). The transfers of Ernie Kent holdovers Malcolm Armstead and Teondre Williams after a year in Altman's system bring his transfer numbers to six in two years, a huge number for a college basketball program.

Taken individually, each transfer has a potential logical reason. Teondre Williams wanted to move on to a place where he could be more than just a role player. Armstead, recruited to play in Ernie Kent's wide open style, wasn't happy with Altman's system. Seiferth, a late addition with no other offers, was clearly outmatched at this level and transferred down. Rumors aboud that Brown and Barron didn't work hard enough and were rubbed the wrong way when called out on it. Kingma wanted a different system as well. That said, while any one of these could potentially be explained, six transfers in two years, each seemingly for issues that often flare up and usually don't lead to transfer, puts up tremendous red flags. Of the past 16 freshmen to be brought to Oregon to play basketball since the 2007-08 season, four have either completed their degrees at UO, or are still enrolled at the school. The issue arose before Altman got to Eugene, but he has certainly done nothing to buck the trend. And you certainly cannot build a program with a 25% success rate of your freshmen lasting all four years.

I want Altman to work out, and there are a number of possible explanations for the issues he's been having at Oregon. Altman was successful at Creighton for a long time, and had that success with guys who weren't the kind of talent that major programs were going after, but who worked hard and fit his system. Maybe he's finding that the big time talent he's been recruiting doesn't want to work as hard, or want a system that will allow them to become stars. Or maybe he's recruiting bad personality fits who just aren't meshing well. Or maybe its just a random fluke happening. But attendance has been less than stellar at Oregon's brand new $200 million dollar arena. Fans are ready for a winner and the athletic department, facing a $14 million dollar a year bond payment on that arena, needs one. Oregon has five scholarship freshmen coming to Eugene next season and, led by one of the best point guard recruits in the country in Dominic Artis, it could be the core of the team that finally takes Oregon back to the NCAA Tournament. But that group needs to stick around awhile, because if the season ends with two or three of them leaving Eugene, fans will start to wonder if Altman needs to be the next one out the door.