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Dana Altman: The most underrated head coach in college basketball

You’re always in good hands with Oregon’s lead man

Oregon v North Carolina Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Oregon basketball is in good hands with Dana Altman. His calm demeanor keeps his players loose, but he prides himself on teaching the game. While he’s never secured a one-and-done recruit, Altman isn’t concerned about the future of this program.

We are just 23 days from opening night of Duck basketball vs Coppin State on Friday, November 10 at Matthew Knight Arena. What better way to kickoff our countdown than by speaking with the lead architect?

Incredibly, Altman is entering his 29th season as a head coach with a major school. Not even he saw his journey starting at Marshall in 1989 and continuing for 29 years with stops at Kansas State and Creighton before landing in Eugene eight years ago.

The Nebraska product is proud of his roots, but Altman left his home state at Creighton to coach the Ducks. It was a lifetime opportunity that he could not pass on, as he’s just beginning to reap the benefits.

For his career, Altman is 597-313 (.656) in 910 total games as a head coach. Yet, he didn’t start to peak until he arrived at Oregon. With the Ducks, Altman has a record of 187-70 (.728) in seven seasons, including five straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

“I was very pleased,” said Altman. “Little surprised with how well we played without Chris Boucher. He was such a big part of our team. To see Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis, everybody step up a little bit and play a little bit better. We made some adjustments on what we did offensively and defensively, and those guys picked that up right away. So that was gratifying.”

Last season was his best as a head coach as he led UO to a program-record 33-6 mark. That included a Final Four appearance a year after an Elite Eight run. Oregon wasn’t just happy to be there, they wanted to win it all for the first since 1939.

Oregon v North Carolina
Dana Altman led his 2016-17 Oregon team to unprecedented new heights. Not only did he guide Oregon to back-to-back Pac-12 regular season crowns, but the Ducks advanced to the Final Four for the first time since the 1939 season.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

“Anytime you lose a one-point game, that sticks with you a little bit longer, so that's been a little tough to get over,” Altman stated remorsefully. “It was a great experience for our players. Definitely was for our staff, and I think our fans enjoyed it. I hope we don't have to wait 70-some, 80-some years again to get back. It was a lot of fun.”

Alongside those back-to-back Pac-12 titles, Altman had his Ducks in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship Game four of the last five years from Las Vegas.

Regardless of past successes, we live in a culture that asks ‘what have you done for me lately?’ as people only seem to remember the now.

The 2017-18 season could be Altman’s greatest test since joining Oregon’s program. The current Duck roster has been infused with freshmen and transfers alongside Payton Pritchard as the lone returning starter.

“A lot of team building there and leadership, trying to bring out leadership with guys,” Altman said. “I think that's been really good for us. Our guys live together. They spend a lot of time together. So you just hope that that chemistry develops. There is no guarantee, but you hope that you recruit the right guys. You hope that they mature.”

Altman knows he doesn’t have to worry as much about his veterans. Whether they were at Oregon last season or not, experienced players understand what college basketball is about. Whereas every individual freshman handles the college experience completely different from the next.

“It's hard sometimes for freshmen because they've been the stars of their high school teams, but they have to sacrifice a little bit when they come to college ball and play with a bunch of high school stars and stars from other programs,” UO’s head coach stated. “Fortunately, we've had good guys that have been willing to do that. It makes it a lot easier to coach.”

A player like Elijah Brown is another coach on the floor for Altman. The senior star transfer from New Mexico is also the son of Golden State Warriors’ assistant coach Mike Brown. In 2000, Gregg Popovic and the San Antonio Spurs hired him.

“He's been great to work with. I think he's always been a big-time scorer. Mater Dei and in college, and we'll need him to score,” said Altman. “We lost our five leading scorers, so we're going to have to get him to score. I think he's going to be a big part of our team. He's going to have a big-time year. ”

Don’t be fooled, Altman will recruit with the best of the best. As we’ve already witnessed with Troy Brown Jr., Miles Norris, Louis King and possibly Luguentz Dort, Oregon’s HC has the ability to sign the “elite” prospect.

With the likes of Duke or Kentucky, there is a great deal of turnover from one season to the next due to one-and-done players leaving. They must rely on freshmen gelling quickly before the NCAA Tournament starts or their hope is lost for that year.

Dana Altman takes a balanced approach to recruiting as he bridges the gap between teams with experienced college transfers and freshmen with upside potential.

“We have a lot of new faces on our team this year. Got big shoes to fill. We've got a young team,” said Altman. “I do like our talent. I like the guys that we brought in. A number of the returners have worked awfully hard to put themselves in a position to play a bigger role on our team this year.”

Returning players like Keith Smith and Roman Sorkin have worked hard during the offseason to compete for minutes on the roster after they watched Casey Benson and Kavell Bigby-Williams depart the program over the summer.

“The six new guys that we have will all play a role,” said UO’s head coach. “Two graduate transfers, Elijah Brown and MiKyle McIntosh, will be a big, big part of our team because of their experience and their talent. Our four freshmen are talented and will step right in and give us some minutes as freshmen.”

Some people may forget that Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey were not highly-coveted prospects. In fact, Dorsey may have been the highest rated. Nevertheless, all four are under contract with NBA teams.

Brown Jr. is the highest ranked prospect on the squad. In all honesty, he could be Altman’s first one-and-done player, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It will take him time to adjust to the speed of the college game, but watch out when he does.

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice
Altman has a great relationship with past, present and future players. Look no further than the bond between him and Jordan Bell. Altman says he catches himself wondering if Jordan is in class nowadays, then remembers he’s in the NBA.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Aside from Brown, Victor Bailey, Abu Kigab and Kenny Wooten will all be vying for valuable playing time amid their first season in college. However, Altman is looking forward to seeing the leadership skills his transfers will provide.

“Elijah being from New Mexico and MiKyle from Illinois State, just wanted to see how it would go,” stated Altman. “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.”

Altman has made the most of his seven years with the Ducks but he is nowhere close to being satisfied and neither should you. This lead man wants more for his players, the program, and the fans that support it.

Dana Altman is a man of very few words. Yet, when he talks people tend to listen. It’s only a matter of time before he receives the credit he’s due in the college basketball coaching landscape. A national title would go a long way in that determination.

If you ask the man himself, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about personal accolades. He’s a simple person that wants the best effort from his players on and off the floor. With the right attitude, approach and mindset, winning always seems to follow him around.

The next 23 days will be jam-packed with Oregon basketball prep, including player profiles, predictions, previews, interviews, breakdowns and a few history lessons. Every day, we will have something new as we count you down to the tip off of 2017.

Ready or not? We’re less than a month away from the 2017-18 season!

Stay tuned, if you want to; Twitter @TheQuackFiend Gram @eugene_levys_eyebrows