Rejuvenated Ducks Head North
The dejection Dana Altman experienced this spring is nowhere to be seen as the 2022-23 season approaches for the Oregon men's basketball team.
Altman and the Ducks left Friday for Montreal, where they open a five-game exhibition slate against Canadian teams at McGill University on Sunday. Three months after a deflating loss in the NIT that brought to a close a roller-coaster 2021-22 season, Altman has been rejuvenated by an offseason of improvement for the Ducks.
The roster has been infused with veteran experience by Keeshawn Barthelemy and Jermaine Couisnard, and with young talent in freshman Kel'el Ware and JC transfer Brennan Rigsby. And the returners have had a full offseason to build up their bodies and work on their games, after two summers in which pandemic protocols impacted workouts.
"We haven't gotten anything done the last two summers, and I think it affected our teams," Altman said earlier this week. "We're back to pre-COVID. We're back to having a great summer."
That climate has helped senior guard Will Richardson build up his body in the weight room, and Nate Bittle show off an improved work ethic in the gym. Returning big men N'Faly Dante and Quincy Guerrier have been able to get in a full offseason of work, after being limited by knee problems a year ago.
"I've used it as an excuse, complaint, whatever," Altman said. "But the '20 summer, we don't have anything because of COVID. Last summer we were still shut down, didn't get much done."
Another anticipated benefit of a full offseason of work will be improved three-point shooting. A year ago, the Ducks saw their percentage of made shots from outside the arc drop more than 40 points, from 37.7 percent in 2020-21 to 33.3 last season.
The Canadian tour will reveal what Altman's hoping to coax from this year's team – better shot selection from deep.
"I think we've got very capable three-point shooters," Altman said. "We took some questionable threes last year, which drove me nuts. There's such a fine line there. You don't want to take guys' confidence, and they gotta have a certain degree of freedom. But we crossed that line a number of times."
Altman believes the talent throughout the roster should help create more good looks for Richardson, a proven threat from outside. Newcomers Couisnard and Rigsby are threats as well, and both Guerrier and Bittle have become more consistent shooters this offseason.
"There's no shortcut to being a really good shooter," Altman said. "There's no quick fix. You've gotta get your rear end in the gym and shoot, hours and hours. That gives you confidence. You know you've outworked people."
The Ducks anticipate adding another shooter upon their return from Canada. Junior college all-American Tyrone Williams recently wrapped up summer school, Altman said, with plans to enroll at Oregon soon after.
To prepare for the trip to Canada, the Ducks were able to hold 10 practices together. Once there, they plan to reunite with some program alumni from Canada, a rich recruiting ground for Oregon in recent years.
Three current players – Guerrier, Barthelemy and sophomore Ethan Butler – are natives of Canada.
"Guys are excited about it, especially our three Canadians," Altman said. "They're really excited about going back. … I've always loved the foreign trips. I think they're really good for teams, really good for growing the game."