EUGENE — Like any coach at a high level, Dana Altman can find the finest of points to focus on correcting after a win and try to minimize the impact of losing multiple key players, including leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Bol Bol for the rest of the season, in order to keep his team from reacting too harshly to otherwise devastating news.
So it came as little surprise Friday that Altman opened his answer about how the Ducks will play without Bol, who averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in nine games before a season-ending foot injury, and forward Kenny Wooten for the next three to five weeks as he continues to recover from surgery for a broken jaw by saying it would be “a change.”
But there is no way to overstate the impact to Oregon’s lineup without its two best big men and most energetic sub, sophomore forward Abu Kigab, who left the program to transfer after missing three games with a left foot injury. The Ducks opened Pac-12 play Saturday night against rival Oregon State with just eight healthy scholarship players until Wooten returns, and only freshman Miles Norris is over 6 feet 9.
“Bol and Kenny were such a presence inside defensively and that’s why most of our defensive numbers have been good … a lot of that was Bol and Kenny changing a lot of shots inside,” Altman said. “It changes a little bit defensively what we’ll have to do. Offensively it’s a big change. You take Bol out of the lineup, we were running a lot of things through him and as the season progressed we were trying to figure out how to use him. He’s a unique player and I think our coaching staff and our team were figuring out more ways to incorporate him into the offense.
“It’s a blow but hey, it’s college basketball. You’ve just got to adjust and other guys are going to have to step up … it’s an opportunity for a lot of guys. I just feel bad for Bol. He was really good young man to work with; I really enjoyed working with him. A unique talent and great personality. I’m going to miss working with him because he was a lot of fun to work with.”
Altman said Bol and his family consulted with multiple doctors before deciding to have the season-ending surgery, which the 7-foot-2 freshman had on Thursday. Oregon’s staff recognized there was virtually no way Bol would be able to return this season, and even if it were possible it was not going to be in his best interest to return to college so late in the season.
Bol quickly became popular with teammates, and the staff liked working with him because he took criticism and coaching well.
“Bol wanted to be pushed. I challenged him,” Altman said. “He probably had three or four really bad practices and I’d get on him and the next day he’d come back and push himself. He was fun to work with. That conflict, when I pushed him, he wanted to get better. That’s why I was excited about working with him.”
Oregon won its nonconference finale at Boise State with the eight-man lineup that will be available for the next few weeks behind 23 points from Ehab Amin, one of multiple players whose roles have to change and expand with Bol, Wooten and Kigab not available.
The graduate transfer is playing less as a true point guard in order to maximize his abilities on offense and use his prowess as one of the team’s better defenders.
“Coach has been talking to us about, ‘That’s all we got and that’s all we need,’” Amin said. “Guys have been stepping up. We’ve had good practices. I think we’ve been preparing pretty well for Pac-12 and I think everybody’s confidence is getting better and adjusting to the new roles as well.”
The inside is where Oregon will see the biggest changes for the rest of the season, though.
The Ducks will also likely have to play even slower than they were in the second half of nonconference play just to stay competitive and avoid foul trouble from creating even more havoc to a short bench.
The 18-game conference schedule will be as much a test of mettle as physical endurance.
“We can’t dwell on people’s injuries or who’s going to be here or not,” guard Payton Pritchard said. “We got to play with what we got and we got to go out and try to win every game. We’re not looking at their injuries and hanging our heads like ‘oh it’s over.’ It’s not over for us. We’re going to make a run; so we just got to do it.”