By Steve Mims

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

First up

Northwest Christian at Oregon (exhibition)

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 30

TV: Pac-12

EUGENE — Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Jordan Bell left the Oregon men’s basketball program early, but they might have also stayed later than expected.

Brooks and Dorsey declared for the 2016 NBA draft before returning along with Bell, who was considered the Duck with the best chance to get drafted if he turned pro following Oregon’s loss to Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional final.

After following up with a run to the Final Four, all three left for the NBA and were drafted in June, leaving Oregon with Payton Pritchard as the lone returning starter.

“That’s how college basketball is, the top teams are going to lose guys every year,” Pritchard said. “We were so good last year, those guys are going to go, and it’s a whole different team this year.”

Oregon ended last season with a roster that had combined to play 19 seasons with the Ducks, including seniors Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis with two apiece and Casey Benson, who transferred to Grand Canyon University for his senior year. Oregon has a total of five years’ experience on the court for the school on its current roster.

“One thing about college, you don’t get to work with them a long time,” said Dana Altman, who is beginning his eighth season at Oregon and 29th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. “I miss seeing those guys every day. I don’t think people realize how much time we spend together. … Those guys did a tremendous job for us.

“We won 90 games in three years. Their toughness and the way they played hard for our school and what they accomplished for us expectationwise, it was a special group of guys.”

Oregon’s five returning players were joined for the start of practice last month by six newcomers, but the expectations will not drop much. Senior graduate transfers Elijah Brown and MiKyle McIntosh were both all-conference players at their previous schools, and freshman Troy Brown was Altman’s first five-star recruit for the Ducks.

“You don’t want to not put expectations on the team,” Altman said. “I keep talking to them about how we just want to be the best this team can be, whatever that leads to.

“We talked about that every year. Don’t worry what everyone says we’re supposed to do. This is our group, so let’s worry about how good this group can get.”

Oregon has made five consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, and some of those successes came from teams much less heralded than this version.

The freshman class includes three four-star recruits, including Brown. Elijah Brown averaged 18.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists last year at New Mexico, and McIntosh averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds at Illinois State.

M.J. Cage, a 6-foot-10 center, was a top-100 recruit out of Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei High School who redshirted last season, and 6-9 junior Paul White transferred from Georgetown.

“The freshmen we have are really talented,” Altman said. “The two transfers are here because they wanted to move to a little bigger school and see what they could get done.”

The Ducks are in their second week of practice with one month left before opening the season on Nov. 10 against Coppin State at Matthew Knight Arena.

“We’re trying to get the feel of each other and it will take some time on the offensive side to learn to play together,” said sophomore forward Keith Smith, who was injured most of last season.

Pritchard probably will start, along with the two Browns, and White, Cage, McIntosh and freshmen Abu Kigab and Kenny Wooten will compete for most of the minutes in the frontcourt.

“I think there are a number of different ways this team can play, which is fun as a coach,” Altman said. “We can make adjustments and play different for different opponents. I think we do have a little flexibility there.”

Altman has a month to fit the new-look Ducks into his system and then four games against mid-major opponents before arriving at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, where the Ducks will open against Connecticut.

“It’s a good group of guys and I like their talent level, but obviously experience is a problem,” Altman said. “Toughness and focus for a full practice has been a problem. I think eventually if they stay healthy, they can round into a good group.”

18434408