Oregon’s Surge Attributable to Dana AltmanPosted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2012
Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the UCLA-Oregon game Saturday afternoon.
When Dana Altman left Creighton to take over Oregon’s basketball program, he encountered a program that had been in disarray. Although the Ducks had twice made the Elite Eight under former head coach Ernie Kent, the team had gone a terrible 24-39 overall and 9-27 in the Pac-10 in his last two season — including an 0-14 start in 2008-09 that saw students rush the court after beating Stanford to avoid going winless in the conference. It’s safe to say that the final two years of Kent’s tenure at his alma mater left the program in shambles in terms of its reputation. Kent’s departure also left the cupboard relatively bare. After he was fired, there was an exodus of scholarship athletes that left Altman with just seven holdovers from the previous year.
After a rough start to Altman’s first season in Eugene, everything since then has come up roses for Oregon basketball. Though carried by Kent’s former players, most notably redshirt senior forward Joevan Catron, Altman led the Ducks to a victory in the College Basketball Invitational in 2010-11. This season, the former Creighton coach is still working with a group of players he didn’t originally recruit, with Kent holdovers Garrett Sim and E.J. Singler sharing the workload with transfers Devoe Joseph, Olu Ashaolu and Tony Woods. That group of players has Oregon off to its best start since 2006-07, when it stormed through the Pac-10 en route to an eventual Elite Eight loss to eventual national champion Florida. There is a growing buzz in Eugene building about the Ducks possibly making the NCAA Tournament, a destination unseen since the 2007-08 season, and by doing that, Altman has started to make a long term impact on the trajectory of the program.
Although Oregon’s 15-5 (6-2 Pac-12) start reflects well on Altman’s performance as a coach, the real barometer of his ability will come next year, when seniors Sim, Joseph, Ashaolu, Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob all depart the program and he is left with only Singler from Kent’s tenure. Being able to win with his own players is a true test of a coach’s all-around ability, and Altman still hasn’t been forced into that. He’s winning, yes, but he’s not winning with “his guys.” Still, the progress Altman has made in his first year and a half in Eugene has been dramatic, and Oregon drew more than 10,000 fans Saturday (the first time all season) for a conference matchup against a disappointing UCLA team. That alone should help demonstrate the cultural shift that has been set in motion by Altman’s hire and the opening of the new and opulent Matthew Knight Arena. Altman has already recorded more wins overall and in conference in his first year and a half on the job than Kent did in his final two years. If Oregon is able to continue on this upward trajectory in the next season and a half, it’s going to be in large part because of the performance of its head coach.