The Oregon Ducks have landed some outstanding recruits of late, and before we look at what is here and what is on the horizon I thought we should reflect a bit on how the current state of Oregon recruiting has come about - especially as it concerns football.
It was not so long ago that being able to recruit in the top 20 nationally was a really big deal. In the 2000s, the Ducks usually ended up ranking in the 30s nationally. The 2006 class was ranked 50(!) in the nation, although that was followed by a 2007 class that was ranked 14.
Chip Kelly then entered the picture and Oregon, in general, began to see a rise in recruiting as reflected in the national rankings. In the early 2010s, the Ducks recruited in the low-to-mid teens. All of these Oregon teams were not without talent, and we can point to any number of superstars and 5-star recruits, but these teams were largely based on 3 and 4 start talent. Still, the Ducks were able to enter the national conversation and get to a couple of championship games with this level of talent.
Then, a terrible, awful thing happened. In 2013, CK handed the keys to the Oregon Ferrari over to Mark Helfrich, and by 2016 Helfrich had crashed that beautiful Oregon machine. The Ducks’ recruiting class plummeted to #27 and when Helfrich limped to a 4-8 record, Oregon had enough and asked for the keys back.
Enter Willie Taggart.
Yes, Duck fans are quick to jump on any number of reasons to not like WT, all deserved, but the undeniable fact of the matter is that Taggart - love him or hate him - ushered in a new era in Oregon football recruiting. Slick Willie was aggressive in going after recruits, and that was apparent the moment he became the head coach. For example, Kelly and Helfrich (for the most part) did not pursue recruits that had already committed to another school. Not WT. Taggart went after top talent, regardless. He brought in coaches that were great recruiters - like future head coach Mario Cristobal - and lifted Oregon back into the top-20 nationally. We know the story after that; he bailed to some swamp in the southeast and was chewed on by alligators...or something...but that’s not the point. The point here is that Taggart brought about a paradigm change in how Oregon recruits.
When Willie Taggart left in 2017, MC was immediately tasked with the problem of how to keep as many pieces in place in what was proving to be an excellent recruiting class for 2018. Cristobal was able to keep critical coaches in Eugene and ending up with the #13 class nationally was beyond impressive. MC would then bring Oregon recruiting into historic territory with #7 and #12 national rankings and back-to-back #1 Pac-12 rankings in 2019 and 2020. The bottom line on this is that the Ducks began to recruit multiple 5-stars in the same season and they raised the overall depth of the team. These efforts were never more apparent than this last season, where a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball showed that the Oregon Ducks have never before had the depth that they do now.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to Mario Cristobal’s national championship at Oregon. My understanding is that it involves swamps in the southeast and alligators...or something...
Enter Dan Lanning.
From the moment coach Lanning arrived in Eugene, he found himself in a position not unlike Cristobal four years earlier. He replaced a coach that was a top recruiter. Lanning’s situation had more immediate obstacles that were not the case with MC, because Lanning did not have a coaching staff in place and had to replace virtually the entire staff. What Dan Lanning was able to accomplish in the short time allotted to him before the early signing day went above and beyond what any of us might have hoped for. While he could only keep a handful of players for early signing, he and the staff then hit the road hard in pushing toward a strong signing day in February. On signing day, Oregon flipped players that were previously committed to other big schools, but the Ducks staff also showed an urgency in keeping Oregon and northwest talent here at the U of O. Despite the coaching changes and logistical problems associated with getting a “late” start in recruiting, Oregon had a #25 recruiting class and was knocking at the #1 spot in the Pac-12 - again.
If one were to be critical and complain, it would be the lack of 5-star talent. However, given the circumstances of the last five months, any follower of the Oregon Ducks would be loathe to complain about the state of Duck recruiting.
Then, last weekend happened.
Surprisingly, WA 5-star OT Josh Conerly snubbed the Huskies and the Trojans and will be a Duck this year. His commitment gave Oregon the #1 Pac-12 spot and a #16 national ranking. It also yanks the top player from the state of Washington away from the Huskies, shortly after signing WA’s #3 player in David Iuli.
Dan Lanning and staff are not done yet. They have been working the transfer portal, to be sure, but are also in the hunt for stars out there that are not yet committed. Today, the Ducks covered their home state again and signed 3-star WR Cole Prusia, a 6’ 3” wide receiver out of Tualatin.
Another potential big prize on the horizon is another uncommitted 5-star, DL Lebbeus Overton. Overton is a Texas A&M lean, but Lanning has been maintaining a “great relationship” with him, and the talk is if he flips it will be toward the Ducks. Overton has not set a commitment date, so this is one to keep an eye on.
MEN’S BASKETBALL -
Dana Altman’s recruiting prowess continues to be top notch. The transfer portal arguably adds a deeper wrinkle for the Ducks basketball program than the football program because a player that leaves takes a greater percentage of the team with him. The fact of the matter is that every basketball coach now has to adapt to the new landscape that impacts recruiting and teams differently today than just a few seasons ago. Altman assembled a 2021-2022 team that wound up being less than the sum of its parts. Coach Altman’s long-term success would point to this last season as something of an anomaly, especially considering who is coming on board next season.
The Ducks have signed some significant parts and look like they’re not done yet. Joining the team for the 2022-2023 season is the #10 ranked player in the country, 7’ 1” center Ke’l Ware. With him, Oregon will be welcoming 5-star point guard Dior Jordan, #1 JUCO guard Tyrone Williams, and JUCO guard Brennan Rigsby. Two weeks ago, Oregon nabbed the #5 player in the country in inking small forward Mookie Cook.
Dana Altman has said that the Ducks are still looking at whatever prospects might come through the transfer portal, because the portal gives as well as takes. Regardless, the future looks bright for Oregon men’s basketball.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL -
Much like Dana Altman, Kelly Graves is one of the best recruiters in the game. Coincidentally - like the men’s team - the women this year did not perform to their paper potential. That has translated into players that were heralded a couple of years ago using the transfer portal and playing elsewhere. But Graves has also lined up a recruiting class for next season that provides us with some renewed hope. The newcomers include: 5-star point guard Chance Gray, 5-star 6’ 3” wing/forward Grace VanSlooten, 4-star 5’ 11” wing Jennah Isai, and 4-star 6’ 7” center Kennedy Basham. Oregon currently has the number 1 recruiting class in the country that will play next season alongside a motivated core of Duck veterans.