When Dana Altman became head coach at Oregon he was tasked with rebuilding the Oregon basketball brand. It had fallen off the path of success the previous few seasons and the Duck head coach needed to install an urgency to get better in practice day in and day out.
Senior E.J. Singler sees the quickest improvement yet this year at Oregon.
In his first two seasons at Oregon we’ve seen the Ducks continue to get better and better as the year played out. By the middle of conference play Altman’s first two Oregon teams played their best basketball of the year and were one of the league’s better teams during that time.
Last year when the calendar flipped to the new year Oregon won six of their first eight league games and that included games at Washington State and Arizona and home wins against Stanford and UCLA.
"We were struggling a lit bit this time a year ago and the guys got together and started moving the ball better and the energy went up," says Oregon head coach Dana Altman. "We really made a big jump over christmas break and I am hoping we can really make a big jump over this Christmas break because we need to."
This season this team will be tasked to follow that same path of working hard in practice and continue to get better week after week to hopefully play their best basketball come March.
But are the Ducks getting better and following that same trajectory?
Senior E.J. Singler who would be the best Duck player to ask and says Oregon isn’t only making progress but is ahead of schedule.
“I think we’ve done better. We’ve picked it up quicker than in the past, especially our young guys," says Singler.
What is becoming the norm at Oregon under Dana Altman the Ducks have had to add multiple new faces each year. This season Oregon has started two freshmen in Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson in the backcourt. Both players have performed better than maybe expected from most and are key reasons for Oregon’s hot start. Dotson leads the team in scoring with 11.7 points per game and has scored 20 and 19 points in key games this year. Artis leads Oregon in assists with 3.7 per game while scoring 10.1 points himself.
It also hasn't hurt to have a senior transfer in Arsalan Kazemi who became eligible early in the season. The 6-foot-7 forward has quietly become one of the league's best players and averages 9.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
"They’ve really caught on faster than in previous years. I think this year, this preseason has been one of our better [years] because everyone is kind of trying e to be on the same page," continued Singler on Oregon’s new players adjusting.
Altman sees improvement this year but the coach also sees the potential of this young group and says there is still plenty to work on and improve upon to reach the level of play the Ducks should be at.
"There’s just a lot of areas that need to be sharpened up tremendously to be a good basketball team," says Altman. With Nevada, Oregon State, and Arizona, we’ve got to make that improvement really quick. I hope there is that sense of urgency when we get back to sharpen everything up because we aren’t nearly as sharp as we need to be."
Oregon returns to practice Friday with players arriving to Eugene Thursday. Oregon’s coaches were back in the office breaking down film on the 26th and also recruiting. The first test to see the improvement will come this Monday on New Year's Eve against Nevada at Matthew Knight Arena. The Wolfpack should not be viewed as an easy win as they've already beat Washington at Washington 76-73 and sit a solid 8-4 on the year. Oregon then opens Pac-12 play on the road at OSU and then has a home game against likely No. 3 Arizona and the Ducks have a tough test early in the 2013 year. Going 0-3 to start league play is there but so is going 3-0.
But first Oregon will take the lunch to work and log extra hours to smooth out the rough edges of this team.
"We still aren’t there. We still have a lot of work to do," says Singler. "We can be so much better than we are right now.”