Does Dana Altman have a final Oregon act in him?
The Ducks have been worse since the Final Four than they were before. The longtime Oregon coach knows what's wrong. Can he fix it before his rivals pull away?
PORTLAND – Shams Charania called me once during the 2019-20 season asking for a favor.
Oregon was good that year — the Payton Pritchard and Chris Duarte-led squad ranked 13th when the pandemic ended the season — but The Athletic’s transactions guru had an issue with how UO coach Dana Altman was divvying up minutes.
To be specific, it was actually CJ Walker’s people who had the problem.
Walker, a five-star freshman who came to Eugene with one-and-done expectations, actually played a fair amount in Oregon’s first two months. He clocked 20-plus minutes against big nonconference foes like Gonzaga, North Carolina and Michigan. But that wasn’t enough for Walker’s camp, despite the fact that the freshman wasn’t exactly efficient shooting the ball and had only two assists through 10 games.
And because Charania’s job relies primarily on trading information with those camps, he cold-called me, The Athletic’s Oregon writer at the time, to suggest that I write a story outlining why Walker should play more.
Needless to say, the story didn’t happen and Walker’s minutes nosedived once conference play began. He transferred at the end of the season and just finished his junior year at Central Florida averaging 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
That was the first and last conversation I had with Charania, who with 1.4 million Twitter followers is obviously the superior newsman. And that’s what I first thought of when I heard Altman’s candidly honest season wrap up after Oregon’s NIT loss to Texas A&M, the one when a coach out of answers longed for the days of players he had to drag out of the gym, like Dillon Brooks.
“I only want guys that want to be at Oregon and are fully invested in our program,” Altman said after a 20-win season, his lowest total in 12 years with the Ducks. “Whoever stays has to be all-in. A lot of adjustments to make here, and guys are going to have to really work hard in the offseason. We’re going to have to have a great summer.”