Oregon men back in bright NCAA tournament spotlight
by Rob Moseley
MILWAUKEE — The BMO Harris Bradley Center is home to the Bucks of the NBA, and Marquette University. This week, however, center court bears the large, blue disk that's the logo of the NCAA.
For college basketball players whose goal is the NCAA Tournament, that blue disk is a sign they've arrived.
The Oregon men got their first look at the court Wednesday, during a 40-minute shootaround at the Bradley Center (they held another workout off-site). For eight players, including six from last season's UO team that reached the Sweet Sixteen, it was a second look in their careers at the big, blue disk.
"Walking through the bag check, seeing 'NCAA' everywhere, it brings back memories, makes me excited," UO sophomore Damyean Dotson said prior to Wednesday's shootaround. "I just can't wait to see the floor. I think once everybody hits the floor and sees that 'NCAA' in the middle, they'll be ready to play."
Dotson is joined in the six-pack of Ducks who reached the Sweet Sixteen last spring by Johnathan Loyd, Dominic Artis, Ben Carter, Waverly Austin and Nicholas Lucenti. In addition, Mike Moser appeared in the tournament with UNLV in 2013, and Jason Calliste did so with Detroit in 2012.
"I don't think you ever get used to the excitement of coming to this atmosphere here," Moser said during a press conference that preceded the shootaround. "Right now I know our guys are so anxious to get out on the court and feel out the arena."
Will all that tournament experience help the Ducks, once they take the court against BYU on Thursday (12:10 p.m. PT, TruTV)? That remains to be seen, of course.
"We didn't have anybody that went to the tournament last year and it worked out OK," UO coach Dana Altman said. "I'm not sure how important experience is.
"It should help. … We do have a number of players who have played, and hope that will help us."
The two Ducks with tournament experience elsewhere are looking for better results this time around.
Moser had five points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench as UNLV lost to California in the second round last season. Calliste started 15th-seeded Detroit's loss to second-seeded Kansas in 2012, and was just 1-of-6 with three points in 27 minutes.
The performance clearly still bothers him, among the many motivating factors for Oregon's most outwardly intense player.
"I had a bad game; we lost. I'm trying to get back on track," Calliste said. "I think about that Kansas game every day, every day. I'm trying to get back on track, trying to get a win."
Sophomore transfer Elgin Cook is making his first NCAA Tournament appearance, but he's enjoying some familiarity too this week. Cook, a Milwaukee native, had about 15 friends and family greet him in the lobby of Oregon's hotel when the Ducks arrived Tuesday, and he has about 50 supporters coming to the game Thursday.
This year's tournament experience has touches of familiarity for Loyd beyond a repeat trip. His older brother, Michael, played at BYU, and he's friends with fellow Las Vegas area native Anson Winder, a starting guard for the Cougars.
"Right after we saw the draw, we immediately texted each other — almost at the same time," Loyd said. "That's still my guy. We still talk a lot, and once this is over we'll probably get back together over the years."
Loyd is a big focus of BYU's preparations, Cougars coach Dave Rose said Wednesday. The Cougars want to limit the speedy guard's penetration, and frustrate his ability to distribute the ball.
Loyd is looking to bounce back from a Pac-12 Tournament in which he played just 29 minutes in two games. He was limited in the opening victory over Oregon State by Artis' breakout performance, and then in the loss to UCLA by four fouls.
"I've just got to stay out of foul trouble," Loyd said. "I get a little too ball-hungry, wanting to take the ball from the person in front of me. I've just got to calm down a little bit, so I can stay on the floor. Other than that, I think my game's in a good place — as long as I get the minutes I need."
Altman is making his 10th NCAA Tournament appearance. He told the players every single one feels special, and now Loyd knows the feeling.
"It's my second time, and I'm feeling excited just like last year," Loyd said during his press conference appearance with Moser. "Me and Mike have experience here, but the excitement is still there. It's at an all-time high."