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Oregon Basketball

Altman Talks Oregon Basketball at Pac-12 Media Days

October 9, 2019
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Oregon men’s basketball head coach Dana Altman is preparing for a marathon. With roughly one month before teams tip off the 2019 college basketball season, Altman addressed the media at the 2019 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day and compared the season to a long-distance road race.

Picked to finish first in the 2019-20 Pac-12 Preseason Media Poll, the Ducks look to build on a 2018-19 campaign that saw them blitz their way through the 2019 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and on to a surprising Sweet 16 appearance. 

To build on that, Altman -- now in his 10th season with the Ducks -- made a late recruiting push to secure the nation’s fourth-best class and No. 1 in the Pac-12. By adding CJ Walker, Addison Patterson, Chandler Lawson and Chris Duarte to the roster, Altman hopes the team finds its chemistry early on. 

“We have a lot of new players,” Altman said in his introductory remarks. “I think they’re talented and are a good group, but we’ve got a lot of new faces to try to blend together and try to get to work together.”

Oregon returns such players as senior guard Payton Pritchard, sophomore guard Will Richardson and sophomore center Francis Okoro. That means the Ducks will blend a more even mix of veterans and newcomers in 2019, leading to lofty expectations.

“The three guys we got returning are really going to have to lead us through the early part of the season,” Altman said. “Payton, Will and Francis … then hopefully the freshmen will come along.”

One of the freshmen Altman is counting on is N’Faly Dante, a 5-star recruit who reclassified late into the 2019 class. Despite this reclassification, however, there are some hurdles for the young big man.

“We’re still going through admissions with him,” Altman admitted when pressed about Dante’s status. “I’m not really sure what his situation is, and we’ll get it work out here this week.”

That would be good news for the Ducks, who are looking to gel earlier this season compared to the past. While many of Altman’s teams have had outstanding late runs, few have gotten off to a hot start. 

“November and December have seemed to have taken on much more importance in the last few years with the selection committee,” Altman said. “It used to be the last 10 games and how you’re doing (in the final month). Now it’s November and December.”

Altman pointed out how the 2019 Ducks could get off to a faster start: defense.

“But you know,” he said, “defense and rebounding. You look over the course of the year and you look at the last two teams last year, Texas Tech and Virginia. I think they both, their analytics, they were top 10, top 5 defensive teams.

“You look at the teams that have taken it all the way, and their defensive production has been pretty good. The year that we went to the Final Four, defensively we were very good.”

From that point of view, Oregon has some work to do, Altman admitted .

“We’re just not physical enough right now on the boards or the defensive end. Our idea of being defensively physical right now is just grabbing and holding. We’ve got a lot of work to do there.”

To help ease the transition into the season for the newcomers and play better basketball from the start, Altman is encouraging the Ducks to take a simple, yet aggressive approach.

“This year we’re trying to keep it a little simpler offensively and let them attack more and be a little bit more aggressive,” Altman said. “I think I learned my lesson the last two years.

“You’ve got to be careful about giving them too much and having them think too much and not attack and be aggressive offensively.”

That’s good news for Oregon players, coaches and fans, as a more productive offense would pay huge dividends in complementing what has been a consistently stout Oregon defense.

“The last two years our offensive numbers, offensive efficiency haven’t been good,” Altman said. “I think a lot of that’s on me because I did give them too much and didn’t let them attack or didn’t get them to be aggressive offensively.”

If Oregon’s offense is able to convert more opportunities and capitalize on its defense in 2019, that is good news for the Ducks and scary news for opposing teams. The Ducks boast one of the most -- if not the mos --, talented roster in the Pac-12. Integrating high-upside newcomers with proven veterans could lead to a special season in Eugene.

But as Dana Altman would point out, nothing is ever guaranteed. Oregon basketball has to earn the lofty expectations, not fall prey to them. 

Introductory Remarks

We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of new players. I think they’re talented and are a good group, but we’ve got a lot of new faces to try to blend together and try to get to work together. … We’ve got one month from tonight, I guess, and we’ll be opening up. So, lot of work to do in the next month, but I do like our talent level and hopefully we can put a ball team together.

On Recruiting Classes in the Pac-12

The talent level for the league, I think, is really good. Lot of schools had really good recruiting years, and there’s always a sleeper or two in the bunch that everybody doesn’t anticipate becoming a really good player.

We had Dillon Brooks a few years back that turned into a really good one. So, you know, it’s not an exact science recruiting. And with players coming and going -- you know, one and done -- it’s kind of hard to figure who can make the impact for the one or two years that they may be there as opposed to a player who hangs around for three or four years.

Payton (Pritchard) being a great example of that. He was a high recruit but he stayed with us. He’s gonna leave as the all-time winningest player in Oregon basketball history. So again, recruiting is not an exact science, but I do like the players that I see coming into the league.

We recruited a lot of them that we didn’t get. You get told no a lot more than you get told yes. So a lot of talented players coming into the league this year and hopefully everybody will be able to make the adjustment quickly.

November and December have seemed to have taken on much more importance in the last few years with the selection committee -- how your team does in November and December. I think the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It used to be the last 10 games how you’re doing. Now it’s November and December.

It will be a very important non-conference for all of us.

On Payton Pritchard’s Development

To watch Payton grow over his four years, you know, he was our point guard on our Final Four team, and last year really exploded to take us to the sweet 16. He’s a talented young man that’s driven. He works very hard at his game.

You love players like that and you love players in your program like that, where you know it’s all about the team winning. He wants to play well, he wants to do well for himself, but the most important thing is winning ball games and leading his team.

And he probably tried to do too much for a period last year. He struggled a little bit but really bounced back and played his tail off down the stretch.

On the Early Schedule and the Pac-12/Big 12 Series

I think it’s great. I think going to Vegas, first of all, and playing where we play our conference tournament is always a positive. I know we’re going to play a good opponent. They haven’t quite signed yet, but we have a pretty good idea who it’s gonna be, so we’re pretty excited about it.

And then going down to Dallas and playing the following year is something we’re excited about. I think it’s great. I think our conference and Oak View and MGM and them sponsoring this; I think it’s great for our league.

I’m glad Jamie (Zaninovich) and the Pac-12 took the initiative and really jumped on this. I know Tad and Mike and I are all excited that first year to get things kicked off.

On How Team Chemistry Is Progressing With Chemistry

 I’m hoping the three guys that returned from last year’s ball club will tell the guys we need to start right away, you know, our communication defensively and the effort that goes into it.

Everybody wants to score, and their families, the girlfriend, everybody claps and they do like that. And I understand that; it’s human nature. But defense, rebounding, if you look over the course over the year, you look at the last two teams last year, Texas Tech and Virginia, they both, their analytics they were top 10, top 5 defensive teams. And so defense does win.

Villanova’s won a couple, and they’re defensively always very good, Jay does a great job, so you look at the teams that have taken it all the way and their defensive production has been pretty good. The year that we went to the Final Four, defensively we were very good.

I think over the course of time it’s proven that if you’re gonna make a long run throughout the season throughout the tournament your defense better be pretty solid cuz you’re not going to shoot it well every night.

On Whether There Is a Current Player Like Elgin Cook

You know, those guys are hard to find. We miss Elgin something terrible. He was very good for us.

I think we have a number of guys, Francis is physical. Shakur (Juiston), grad transfer from Vegas, is physical. CJ Walker is aggressive for a freshman. I think our other freshmen are starting to get a feel for the physicality of college ball, and I think they'll make the adjustment.

But I do like our guys. I like their length. We're just not physical enough right now on the boards or the defensive end. Our idea of being defensively physical right now is just grabbing and holding. We've got a lot of work to do there.

But again, the next month is going to be critical for us because our early schedule is so difficult. So we're going to have a lot of work here in the next month.

On Summer Recruiting and Being Named Pac-12 Favorites

Well, I like the guys. I think the two grad transfers are really going to be important for us.

I think it still goes back, though, to the guys we signed early -- CJ Walker and Chris Duarte, those guys, Chandler Lawson. Are all going to have to be a big part of our team.

The three guys we got returning are really going to have to lead us through the early part of the season. Payton, Will and Francis, and then hopefully the freshmen will come along.

Again, the adjustment to Division I basketball, you don't know how quickly they're going to make that adjustment, how quickly they're going to feel comfortable playing with their new teammates and in front of big crowds.

Again, Fresno, Boise, Memphis, Houston and Seton Hall are five of our first six games. So they're going to have to make the adjustment very quickly.

On Consistent Recruiting Success

Well, we've got a great staff. Tony (Stubblefield) has been with me for 10 years, starting our 10th year together, 10th season together. Josh Jamieson has been with me for 10, Kevin (McKenna) has been with me at Creighton.

So we've got a real experienced staff. Mike Mennenga fifth or sixth year. So that continuity in the staff helps, because they all believe in what we're doing.

But it goes back to players, and those guys recruit their tails off and we get good players. We've got good guys. They could have quit on it us last year.

We were struggling. I mean, ups and downs, and Louis (King) doesn't play the first nine games because of his knee, then we lose Bol (Bol) right when we get him back, Kenny (Wooten) broke his jaw and was out a month and we get him back, and Paul (White) sprains his ankle and he's done.

We're 15-12 and we're not playing very well, and they could have given up on our coaching staff, they could have given up on each other. But I thought they showed tremendous character in continuing to grind. It's a long season.

I keep telling them, all we've got to do, confidence is right around the corner. You've got to have one good one, and it'll bounce right back. They picked it up, and man, it was a great run.

We had a couple bad offensive possessions against Virginia or we would have had a shot there down the stretch. We were leading with four minutes to go, and just two really bad possessions and didn't give ourselves a chance.

But they're a good group of guys, and I think we've got a good group this year. I think they're really talented. I think they're good guys. I think they'll be fun to work with.

Again, it's a marathon. You start October 1 and you're going hopefully until April 1. That's six full months.

You've got to have good guys, guys that want to be there and want to play together. And we've been really fortunate at Oregon to recruit really good guys that will stay with it.

On the Status of N’Faly Dante

Well, we’re still going through admissions with him. You know, I'm not really sure what his situation is, and we'll get it worked out here this week.

On the Roles of the Assistant Coaches 

Well, I think that is important. The guys have been with me, and Tony is a tremendous defensive coach. He really gets after our guys and gets them to play hard. He's got great rapport with our guys. So I think he gives us something defensively that really gets our guys going.

Kevin and I have done a lot of the same things offensively over the years because we were together at Creighton and here, so that's helped.

And Mike is really good at player development and working with guys. I think they all have their roles. They all work their tails off, which is a big part of it, and the other part, I think the players trust them.

They've been around a long time. They're all experienced. They've been at Oregon a long time. So if the guys are with us, there's just a trust factor that goes in there.

But it's a great group, and like I said, I'm very fortunate that Tony has stayed with us and Mike and everybody. It's a good group. Josh has been there for a long time, Jamieson, and keeps us all moving in the right direction.

On Facing the Preseason With So Many New Faces

The preseason is much different. We had experienced teams there for a couple years and had great runs, and offensively our efficiency numbers were really good because of that carryover. And then the last two years, we've tried to blend in so many new players, and I think that we've tried to do too much offensively, and we lost a little of our aggressiveness.

So this year we're trying to keep it a little simpler offensively and let them attack more and be a little bit more aggressive. And I think I learned my lesson the last two years. You've got to be careful about giving them too much and having them think too much and not attack and be aggressively offensively.

Defensively, I think we want to do the same things. But I think the difference between this ball club and some of the last two years compared to the experienced teams that went a long way for us -- you've just got to be careful about letting them play, over-coaching them, giving them too much, and having them thinking too much rather than just going out and attacking and being aggressive.

On When the Ducks Will Hit Their Stride

It's part of it, part of it. The last two years our offensive numbers, offensive efficiency, haven't been good, and I think a lot of that's on me because I did give them too much and didn't let them attack or didn't get them to be aggressive offensively, give them that freedom.

Last year, so much of it was injuries because we geared so much the first nine games to Bol. He was getting 21-10, and then we had to kind of turn directions there, and that didn't help us any.

But I do think we've tried to look at what we didn't do well the last couple years. And watching the film, I just don't think we were aggressive enough. We've got to change that by letting them play, take a few bad shots and be aggressive and not get carried away with themselves, but we've got to be more aggressive in the open court. We need to be more aggressive in the half court

 And I think freeing them up and not giving them nearly as many sets but trying to do the ones we put in much better.

On the Challenges Facing Okoro and Richardson

Well, Francis and Will early, they've got to communicate with guys. They know our system, what we're trying to do defensively. They know where our shortcomings were last year when we weren't playing well, so I'm hoping they'll pass that knowledge on to the rest of the guys -- how much better we have to communicate earlier defensively and play together offensively much better than what we did.

I'm hoping that their experience down the stretch gave them some insight on how we want to play throughout the season and what we need to do defensively and how important -- depending on each other, communicating with each other -- how important that is.

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Payton Pritchard

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