Commitment from 5-star KJ Evans breathes life back into Dana Altman’s Ducks
EUGENE — “Whenever I have my doubts about (Dana) Altman, he comes back from the dead,” a friend of mine texted me early Tuesday afternoon.
Figuratively, he had a pretty good point. Because after a lackluster season of Oregon men’s basketball preceded summer decommitments from 5-star Mookie Cook and 4-star Dior Jordan, Oregon snagging a commitment from 2023’s No. 7 recruit Kwame Evans Jr. is a momentous and timely talent infusion for Altman’s Ducks.
Evans Jr. had shown interest in the program for some time, but after Cook — a friend of Evans Jr. — jumped ship in early July, it seemed increasingly unlikely he’d land with the Ducks.
Now, amidst a flurry of Crystal Ball predictions, the Ducks have re-emerged as the favorite to land Cook — an Oregon native and the nation’s No. 4 overall recruit according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
How’s that for a turnaround?
Put simply, Evans Jr. is the type of big wing that’s had success in the Altman system. He seems like the rare one-and-done who could impact winning basketball from day one, too.
At 6-foot-9 with a 7-plus-foot wingspan, he can play either forward spot, and, if he adds some upper body strength, maybe some spot minutes at center at the college level. He’ll need to tighten his handle, but he’s got excellent movement skills which allow him to handle the ball in transition and pick up smaller defenders on the perimeter. I’m a believer in his jumper, too. The smooth form suggests he has the potential to be sufficient from 3. But, Evans Jr. isn’t set to hit the court until late fall 2023, he’s got some growing to do and like this Oregon roster, it remains unclear what he could blossom into.
As Tuesday wore on, I found myself reminiscing on two past stories.
After the 2021-22 Ducks unceremoniously bowed out in a 76-50 loss to Texas A&M in the second round of the NIT, I wrote a column about the direction of Altman’s Ducks.
“The Ducks’ grip on the Pac-12 is loosening,” I wrote. “Tomorrow, a critical offseason begins for Dana Altman’s team.”
Yet again, Altman's best work has come in the months directly following the season. Transfers Keeshawn Barthelemy and Jermaine Couisnard should fit in admirably, perhaps injecting a resiliency which last year’s team lacked. Amidst the age of the decommitments, the fact that Kel’el Ware — a top-10 recruit in 2022 — has held steady with his commitment is paramount. And with top-75 recruit in West Linn’s own Jackson Shelstad now flanked by Evans Jr. and potentially Cook, Oregon’s 2023 class could be one of its best ever.
I no longer feel as though Altman’s grip on the Pac-12 is loosening.
The other article that came to mind was something The I-5 Corridor’s own Tyson Alger wrote three days later. From his column:
The Ducks didn’t have a single five-star player from the time Altman began in 2010 through the Final Four run and never had a recruiting class ranked better than 19th.
They went 187-70 in that span, winning 72 percent of games.
In the five years since, Oregon’s brought in six five-stars and twice finished within the national top-five in recruiting.
Oregon won 67 percent of those games (113-55).
Unquestionably, the Ducks didn’t get the type of production that was promised out of Louis King, Bol Bol, N’Faly Dante, Troy Brown Jr. and (CJ) Walker.
Seven of Oregon’s top 10 all-time recruits have come since 2017. The brand is strong, but as Alger alluded to, Altman has won by concocting winning combinations, not by letting singular talents play hero ball.
His recruiting of late would suggest he’s gotten a hold of the modern day college basketball landscape. The next step will be finding a formula which can work elite-level, one-and-done players into it better than the past.
The track record isn’t great, but Ware, Evans Jr., and perhaps Cook, have the chance to change that.
— Shane Hoffmann
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