When Oregon’s early exits reached five, coach Dana Altman was left with six players.
Bol Bol and Louis King were expected to be one-and-done players for the NBA draft, while Victor Bailey and Miles Norris were predictable transfers after spending most of their time near the end of the season on Oregon’s bench.
It was Kenny Wooten’s surprising decision to stay in the draft that knocked the Oregon men’s basketball team out of those way-too-early Top 25 polls and created questions — both locally and nationally — about whether the Ducks could put together a roster capable of contending in the Pac-12.
“I wouldn’t say panic was the right word, but we were definitely concerned,” Altman recalled during an interview last week. “We had a lot of ground to catch up. We liked the six guys we had, but obviously you’ve got to field a team for a long season with injuries and everything.”
Altman has added seven players since last season ended with a 53-49 loss to eventual NCAA champion Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
He used every option available for coaches to restock a roster by signing one prep senior, adding two players who reclassified to 2019, picking up two graduate transfers eligible to play immediately and two other transfers who must sit out a season. College basketball rosters used to be set shortly after the spring signing period begins in April, but Altman added three players in June, one in July and two in August.
“It would have been nice, but that doesn’t happen very often anymore,” Altman said of finalizing a roster in the spring. “Everything changes. There are a lot of different pieces to it anymore.”
The first addition came in April when Eric Williams Jr. transferred from Duquesne, but that did not provide immediate help because the 6-foot-6 forward must sit out this season. Anthony Mathis announced on June 3 that he was leaving New Mexico to play his senior season elsewhere, and two days later, the graduate of West Linn High School was headed to Oregon to reunite with prep teammate Payton Pritchard.
Next came Eugene Omoruyi, a 6-6 transfer from Rutgers who also must sit out one season, still leaving the Ducks with seven eligible scholarship players in the middle of June.
Lok Wur, a 6-8 forward, was targeting junior college before being declared eligible by the NCAA. He signed with Oregon on June 23, but he was considered a raw prospect who might need time to develop.
Oregon’s late-summer haul began when 6-7 forward Shakur Juiston, who averaged a double-double at UNLV two years ago, announced on July 12 that he would play his senior season with the Ducks. N’Faly Dante, a 6-11 center who was considered a five-star recruit in 2020, graduated early and committed to the Ducks on Aug. 13. Five days later, guard Addison Patterson also reclassified to join the Ducks right away.
Oregon opened practice Friday with its full allotment of 13 scholarships filled, including 11 players eligible to take the court this season along with returning walk-ons Luke Osborn and Will Johnson. The Ducks have five returning players and 10 newcomers on the roster as they prepare to open the season at home on Nov. 5 against Fresno State.
“It’s going to be a hectic six weeks here,” Altman said. “We hope to have a competitive team. I think we’ll be all right, but it sure helps to have Payton Pritchard back. That’s a big part of it. You have to hope everything falls into place.”
Pritchard, the guard who declared for the NBA draft before returning for his senior season, heads up an older backcourt that also returns sophomore Will Richardson. Junior-college transfer Chris Duarte arrives along with Mathis and Patterson to fill out the backcourt.
“I like our guards, we’ve got pretty good depth there,” Altman said. “We’ve got some guys I think can score a little bit so it will be how they fit together and play together that will be important. I think as a group, they are pretty good.”
Oregon is young inside, where only sophomore Francis Okoro returns. Juiston provides experience, while Chandler Lawson and C.J. Walker were early signees for the Ducks joined later by Dante and Wur.
“Francis and Shakur give us some experience there so I like that,” Altman said. “The young kids are long and athletic so they should blend in. Hopefully everybody will be able to catch on quick and adjust to the physicality of the game.
“For big guys, that’s always an adjustment, getting bumped around a lot more and getting to bump people around. They (officials) call it so close in high school that they get called for everything so adjusting to the physicality and both being able to get pushed around and being able to push somebody around usually takes a while.”
Dante is a 230-pound 17-year-old who arrived in the United States from Mali four years ago. Altman said Friday that Dante is still going through the admissions process for reclassification and will not be able to practice until that is completed.
“He’s young, but he’s put on a lot of weight in the last year so that should help him,” Altman said. “He’s long and athletic. He’s going to take a while to adjust to the college game, but he should do all right.”
Juiston played two years in junior college and one season at UNLV before suffering a season-ending knee injury eight games into last year. Mathis also played parts of four college seasons with New Mexico, including a medical redshirt when he played 10 games in 2016-17.
“Getting the two grad transfers really helped us to replace (Bailey’s) experience,” Altman said. “Mathis can really shoot it. Shakur is coming off a knee injury so he will be a little rusty, no doubt about that. He could help us physicality-wise. He’s a real good rebounder who goes to the boards and his experience will help. And he was a really good (junior college) player.”
Altman has relied on grad transfers throughout his Oregon career, with Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Dylan Ennis, MiKyle McIntosh, Elijah Brown and Ehab Amin among those making a one-year contribution.
“It kind of rejuvenates them a little bit,” Altman said. “After four years at the same place, they get a different opportunity. We have been fortunate with our grad transfers, they have really done well for us. I think it has been a good experience for them, too. Hopefully these two will give us some experience, some leadership and give us a good year.”
After the summer uncertainty, Oregon may be the Pac-12 favorite once again when the preseason media poll is released next month. And the Ducks could be close to a top-10 team when the national polls come out.
“Sometimes it is just how they all come together,” Altman said. “I like the group and think we have got a shot to have a nice team, but it all depends on how bad they want it, how bad they want to work together. I like their talent level and I like them as guys. They have been fun to work with.”