To really appreciate just what Oregon Men’s Basketball head coach Dana Altman has done for the program, one need only look back to the decade before he arrived.
In the 2000s, Oregon Men’s Basketball had two stellar teams, that being the 2002 and 2007 squads, each of whom made runs to the Elite Eight on the backs of experienced, gritty players who had formed a great bond together.
These teams were so surprisingly successful that they had commemorative DVDs made to honor their respective seasons, and aside from them, no team in the 2000s had even managed to win a single NCAA Tournament game.
For perspective, Altman also took two teams to the Elite Eight in the 2010s. Difference is, one of them made the Final Four, and he took two other completely separate teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Of the six different times the Ducks made it to the big dance in the 2010s, not once did they ever bow out in the first round.
That success did not go unnoticed, and a bevy of blue chip recruits were soon donning the green and yellow. Oregon was no longer just a popular football school, they had some real hardwood heroes.
So what was the issue these past couple of seasons? Oregon constantly underachieved given the players they had out on the floor and could find no consistency for two straight years.
Altman, generally a more motivational communicator than anything else, finally let out some frustrations after Oregon’s season ended in the third round of the NIT, a tournament they had participated in the past two seasons straight after making the NCAA Tournament eight of the previous nine seasons.
Altman called out the poor fan attendance for the pivotal matchup…more on that in a moment.
He also made it clear that anyone that wasn’t committed to playing for Oregon would be better suited to scram, saying that they weren’t interested in having players that didn’t truly want to be there, regardless of how many stars they had accrued.
5-star center Kel’el Ware is heading out, as is former leading Junior College scorer Tyrone Williams. Neither really produced the way they were expected to, and it’s becoming clear that that was not due to Altman’s coaching.
Oregon also had a 5-star center come aboard in 2018, the highest-rated recruit in program history, in fact. What happened? He got hurt, and Oregon? Oregon went on a tear, winning the last 10 games of the season straight and collecting a conference tournament championship and earning a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Ware was a 5-star recruit. He averaged six points a game and was the third best center on the team.
You know who wasn’t a 5-star recruit? Former Pac-12 player of the year Joseph Young. Neither was Pac-12 POTY Peyton Pritchard, or Pac-12 POTY Chis Duarte. Jordan Bell, the school’s all-time leader in blocks, wasn’t. Neither was second place all-time blocks leader Chris Boucher, or third all-time blocks leader Kenny Wooten.
Dillon Brooks wasn’t, and he was one of the clutchest performers in the nation. Neither was Jonathan Lloyd, who went from being “too small” to MVP of the Pac-12 Tournament.
See a pattern here? The success of a player at Oregon under Altman hasn’t been the result of a number of stars next to their name or endorsement deals they’ve been offered, it’s been players who have bought in to his methods, and, like Altman himself said, looked at Oregon as a destination as opposed to a pit stop.
Why are we taking this coach for granted? Why, during his run of conference championships, conference tournament championships, and NCAA Tournament runs has Oregon never even managed to average a sellout at 12,000-seat Matthew Knight Arena? Why do we think that this incoming 2024 class, the most decorated in program history, will do anything other than fall on its face if it doesn’t realize their coach knows a lot more than they do about the game of basketball?
Did you know that not once, not ONCE since he took over as head coach of Oregon has Altman ever failed to win 20+ games in a season? Do yourself a favor if you have a few minutes and browse the decades prior to Altman arriving. How many 20-win seasons do you see?
How many times during his tenure did basketball look dead in the water heading into February, then suddenly catch fire like a Duralog?
The man knows what he’s doing, and guess what? He can do it with 3 and 4 star recruits if need be. Maybe it’s time to stop relying on decorated signings and loom for some gritty players who are honored to step onto the floor at Oregon, who want to practice what Altman is preaching.
Ware didn’t want to buy into Altman’s scheme, nor did Williams. Well, good riddance!
Some 5-stars just want a coach that can help them get to the next level. Ask Pritchard, Brooks, or Duarte if Altman is able to prepare players for NBA success.
It’s great that Oregon has such a high-profile recruiting class, and that the infamous transfer portal is crawling with talent. But it won’t matter if those players don’t bring the focus and patience Altman asks for.
Coach finally pointed out what the problem really was with Men’s Basketball, both for the players and the fans, and both would be best suited to listen to him.