I-5 Thoughts: On Jackson Shelstad's 'It Factor', mid-range jumpers and Bronny James' Pac-12 debut
A few thoughts after a trip down to Matthew Knight Arena.
EUGENE — Dana Altman’s been coaching far too long to typically answer any historical questions about his career in the heat of the moment.
The latest came after Oregon’s 82-74 win over USC Thursday night at Matthew Knight Arena, a convincing victory in front of a lively crowd for an Oregon team that’s still fighting with a very large hand (see: Dante, N’Faly) tied behind its back. The win had Altman in good spirits in the postgame, but not quite good enough to fully indulge an inquiry about Jackson Shelstad’s placing among standout freshmen he’s coached.
The West Linn alum scored 21 points in the win, using an array of threes, mid-range pull-ups and drives to put on a show. When things got tight down the stretch, Altman wanted the ball in his freshman’s hands.
Has he ever had a freshman quite like that?
“I’m old so I’ve had a lot of freshman point guards,” Altman said in a way that sounded like he was initially going to deflect. “Payton did a good job as a freshman. Casey Benson played a lot as a freshman. Johnny Loyd back in the day did all right. We’ve had some guys.”
But then Altman peeled back the curtain ever so slightly:
“You either have that competitiveness, that confidence, or you don’t. It’s like the quarterback of a football team. You either got a little bit of the ‘It Factor’ or you don’t. Jackson’s got a little bit of ‘it.’ He thinks he’s a player. You got to. You got the ball in your hands all the time, you have to believe in yourself and he does because he puts in the time. It’s not fake. Confidence comes with preparation and he works really hard. He spends a lot of time in the gym. That gives him a little air our team needs.”
This is Altman’s 14th season at Oregon and 35th season coaching Division I basketball. Yes, he may have had some freshmen who have shown similar traits to Shelstad, but it’s a rare occasion when he speaks about them in the way Altman has eight games into the Oregonian’s career.
“I want the ball in his hands,” Altman said of Shelstad. “He really tries to do what I ask him to do. He’s really coachable. All the guys are. We’re still making too many mistakes, but guys are trying to do the right stuff.”
Maybe Altman is softening a bit. Maybe Shelstad is just that good.
They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
It wasn’t just Shelstad on Thursday, though. Kwame Evans Jr. had the best game of his young career, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds and using his lengthy frame to give USC fits defensively from the lane to the perimeter.
With Dante still on the mend from injury and 7-footer Nate Bittle out indefinitely, Altman has grown increasingly confident in his five-star freshman in key spots. Evans has played 33 minutes in three consecutive games after never playing more than 26 minutes in Oregon’s first nine.
He’s averaging 9.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and Thursday showcased an array of skills on the offensive end: He was 3-of-4 from long range and impressed Altman with his tenacity inside.