EUGENE, Oregon — After finishing the greatest basketball season in Oregon history (33-6), head coach Dana Altman took some time from the recruiting trail to discuss the past, present and future of Duck basketball on Monday morning from Matthew Knight Arena.
The biggest adjustment for Altman may be the “type” of discussions he has with former players. Before, he would text a player if they were in class. He would make sure they were staying consistent with their school work. For future NBA players, they are no longer worried about their Human Anatomy class at 8:00 a.m.
For someone who rarely smiles or exhibits any emotion during the season, Altman was relaxed, engaging and overall happy on Monday. Even with six, possibly seven, players leaving the program, the coach could not help but gush over his guys.
Oregon’s lead man sat down for about 30 minutes on Monday morning from MKA. He discussed everything from the ‘39 team to the incoming Duck freshmen.
What is the biggest difference for you now?
Jordan Bell, I joke with him. I’m driving to the arena today and thinking about Jordan being in class. Usually when I’m driving to the arena, I’m worried whether Jordan went to class or not.
Do you still check in on players?
Just checking on you, making sure you’re where you’re supposed to be and he (Bell) started laughing. It’s a little different after three years, not having you around.
Discuss the transition from college to the NBA for your players?
You spend so much time with those guys, it’s tough to go cold turkey and not talk to them. Those guys have been a big part of our program.
Do you communicate with players after they leave the program?
I still text with a lot of the former players. The way we finished this year, I stay in contact with a lot more. You spend so much time with guys, it’s tough to stop talking with them.
Have you spoken with players from the current team recently?
I talked to Dylan Ennis this morning, he’s in New York. I talked to Jordan Bell this morning and he’s busy with his preparation. Brooks didn’t pick up, that’s not amazing. I’ve stayed in touch with them. Chris (Boucher) is back on campus, he had the surgery. It’s been a crazy two weeks, but I really feel good for all of them.
Were you surprised by Casey Benson’s departure?
Casey made a decision for himself. That’s what we want. I haven’t talked to Kavell (Bigby-Williams) yet, but he wants to look at some things. We encourage them to do what’s best for them. I hope it works out for all of them.
Did you know the “Big 3” were leaving after the season?
Oh yeah. Dillon Brooks and Tyler I knew before the season they were going to leave. Jordan, until the run at the end, I wasn’t sure what he was going to do. You play that well for that many games, I can’t blame him. And Casey, I knew he was down when I made the decision to go with Payton (Pritchard) to start the year. I wasn’t surprised by any of them.
Did you know before the tournament?
Those guys were straight up with us and their families. If they had a nice year, we knew they were going to leave. Dillon was Pac-12 Player of the Year and Tyler was ‘Mr. March’ or whatever they called him. We knew it was coming. We’ve been recruiting all year.
How is recruiting going right now?
We anticipate we’ll sign a couple here, late. We’re also working very hard to finish, with the Elite Eight and Final Four. Next fall is really important for us. We took advantage of the Elite Eight by signing Troy Brown, VJ and Abu. I like that start. But, we do need to finish it in the spring.
How has your job changed with the success of the program?
It’s not that diffferent, we are getting into homes a lot easier. We’re going to be younger than we have in awhile, which I am looking forward to. The talent level is really good. We can adjust the way we play. We have a certain philosophy. But, we recruit versatile players that can adapt. Last year we played big, but traditionally we’re smaller. We recruit versatile players.
What do you attribute the success of Jordan Bell to at the end of the season?
Everyone talks about Jordan playing so well at the end, but it’s the time he put in since last year. Guys come to the gym. They’re in there all the time. You don’t have to beg them, they want to be there.
Discuss Payton Pritchard’s new role, alongside Paul White and MJ Cage?
His leadership will be important. It gives you an opportunity to mold some guys. They give us some size. They were both banged up this year, but they are healthy now. That will be determined by competition in practice. They will compete.
What concerns you most at this moment?
There would be a fear factor if we had everyone coming back. Last year, it was ‘can we get the guys to take the next step without complacency?’ There is never a gradual step, you are always concerned about something. Getting them to play like a team. We didn’t move the ball as well as we should in the North Carolina game. It still bothers me. We made some optimistic passes and shots that we wouldn’t normally because guys were playing so well. It wasn’t very good.
Do you plan on using all 13 scholarships?
No. We are not going to have 13 scholarship players next year. We want to save some for the fall.
How do you view this season?
Unless you’re North Carolina, you ended your season on a loss. At some point, they’ll look back and realize we won 33 games and had a lot of fun. There was a lot of hurt in that locker room and there still is today.
Did you know Jordan Bell was leaving?
I couldn’t advise him to come back, even if I wanted to. I supported him all the way.
Who are the ranked recruits that interest you?
We’re on some guys that are pretty talented and not ranked. Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell weren’t ranked. Elgin Cook wasn’t ranked that high and he turned into a heck of a player. We’re on some very talented men. We’re trying to get them on campus. Guys that I think are very talented regardless of where they are ranked. It’s all about the right fit, the right work ethic. I go back even further. Kyle Korver wasn’t listed by anybody, but just finished his 13th or 14th year (NBA). Anthony Tolliver wasn’t a Top 100 guy. Way back, Mitch Richmond wasn’t a top guy, but they all had great careers.
What do you take from this season?
All coaches recognize the significance of going to the Final Four. Winning a championship like the 1939 team did, those things are edged in stone. But a Final Four is pretty good too. Hope everyone has a great summer. We’ll see you next fall.
Thank you to Dana Altman for his time. We are looking forward to what he has in store for the Ducks in the fall. Fortunately for you, we will ha