Eugene – already holding the #2 recruiting class in the country, Oregon men’s basketball is hosting another blue-chipper this weekend as 5-star PG Brandon Williams is currently visiting the emerald valley.
The 6’2” 185 pound floor general from Encino California was joined in Eugene by fellow 5-star prospects and current Oregon commits Bol Bol and Louis King, who arrived this weekend to help convince Williams to join them deep in the woods for 2019.
If Williams, who decommited from Arizona, were to join the current flock Oregon would have secured more 5-star recruits in one class than the entire history of the program combined (Malik Hairston in 2004 and Troy Brown Jr. in 2017).
Talent like that could easily lead to a deep tournament run and another potential Final Four on paper, but skill alone won’t necessarily get the job done. With talent there needs to be the right type of attitude amongst the players, the most important is that of team unity. During Oregon’s up and down 2018 campaign it often seemed as though the group of talented players couldn’t quite figure each other out, not necessarily an easy task after returning only one starter and only two players who saw significant time on the floor, those being the returning Payton Pritchard and Keith Smith. Joining them were Elijah Brown from New Mexico, Mikyle McIntosh from Illinois State, and Paul White from Georgetown. Then there was the heralded freshman class including Brown Jr., Kenny Wooten, Victor Bailey Jr., and Abu Kigab.
When the team played with cohesion they looked like a legitimate NCAA Tournament squad, when they didn’t they more resembled an NIT shoo-in (which eventually they were). Often in tight games against teams with more experience playing together the “us over me” mentality made the ultimate difference. Players not only knowing their own role, but other’s roles as well and how they coincided with each other in clutch moments proved to be imperative.
The other aspect of the required attitude seemingly missing this past year was something coaches may not necessarily emphasize in favor of fundamentals and the aforementioned unity, but it nonetheless is an important ingredient to being elite, and that is a level of confidence maybe not quite scraping the level of cockiness but at least hovering in the realm of “swagger”. The 2017 squad was loaded with it. Dillon Brooks was a character and a half on the floor, often drawing the ire of opposing fan bases with his in-game antics and fiery personality. Jordan Bell was not shy about showing off either, throwing an alley-oop off the glass to himself, windmilling it multiple times on fast breaks, and staring down the camera after a particularly ferocious jam against Oregon State. And Tyler Dorsey preferred the mantra of “Mr. March” for his stellar play in the conference and NCAA Tournaments the past couple seasons.
But nowhere was the attitude and mindset so abundantly clear in garnering results than with Brooks, who from the get-go seemed to play with a constant chip on his shoulder. He was not considered a 5-star prospect coming out of Canada, due perhaps to his lack of natural athleticism. But whatever Brooks may have been lacking athletically he more than made up for with grit and determination, as he was the runner up for Pac-12 player of the year in 2016 and won the award in 2017. Not picked particularly high in last June’s NBA draft, Brooks continues to find success regardless, as he’s posted multiple 20-point games and become a role player for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Troy Brown Jr, rated a 5-star prospect coming out of high school, had all the natural athleticism and skill you could ask for in a teenage basketball player. But Brown, who recently decided to become Oregon’s first one-and-done by declaring for the 2018 draft, never quite lived up to the potential Oregon fans had for him coming in. I’m not going to be bold enough to claim it was a lack of confidence or competitive fire that kept Brown from reaching an elite level of play, but it never really appeared he had the same kind of contagious energy Brooks displayed even in his freshman season. Whether Brown’s decision to attempt a jump to the pros already was the right call is not for me to say, and there will be plenty of tape left to unfurl in his personal and professional journey, but Brooks realized, even after his stellar 2016 showing, that he still had room to grow, and successes to accomplish in Eugene.
If Bol, King, or potentially Williams feels that after their initial tenure in Eugene they’ve accomplished what they came there to and are ready for the next step in their basketball journey, then all the more power to them. But for them to have a realistic shot at the “championships” particularly King has been mentioning as of late, an attitude geared toward understanding of teammates, proving critics either right or wrong, and believing you can beat any team you take the hardwood against, will be a major factor.