November 13, 2008

New team for 2008: Part I

After all the discussion surrounding Oregon's new freshmen we've now had a chance to see them play a couple times. Michael Dunigan looks like he could develop into a dominant center at the collegiate level. Matthew Humphrey looks like he could become a tremendous scorer and defender. Drew Wiley has shown he can knock down a jump shot and play off of others. Teondre Williams has brought the athleticism everyone thought he would. Garrett Sim he's capable of running the offense and making good decisions. And Josh Crittle looks like a load down on the block that will be tough for teams to deal with for the next few years.

But they're not there yet. We all know they haven't really played anyone yet. Friday night they tee it up in their first major college game.

"The exhibitions are nice but the competition obviously isn't what it's going to be when we start playing these games for real," said Assistant Coach Kenny Payne. "Of course, we want to win games, but almost more important than that in some ways is the need for these guys to continue to get better as a team. With every practice and every game they need to improve individually and as a group. Then the wins and losses will take care of themselves."

Coach Payne is right about improvement being the key because with the level of competition Oregon will face from the second game on, the Ducks' RPI should be terrific by the end of the year if they just win over 50% of their games. Virtually every team Oregon will play in the non-conference made the Big Dance last year.

"Oakland returns every starter from the team that stunned the Ducks in Michigan. St. Mary's is a co-favorite in their league. San Diego made the tournament and has a ton of talent. Kansas State had a terrific recruiting class and will be looking to avenge last year's loss in Manhattan. And then you get to Maui and you face Alabama and if you win, you get number one. Win or lose, we need to use every minute as a learning experience for sure."

On Friday the Ducks open with Northern Colorado.

"With such a young team, our guys are going to learn quickly that sometimes we're the team that's the hunted. Teams like Northern Colorado want to come in and knock off the big fish," said Payne, "At first our guys might think, this team or that team isn't going to beat them because they're not named Georgetown or something. But then we show them the film and they see guys who can really play it gets their attention quickly. We're not going to take anyone lightly."

With so many players suiting it up for the first time, you wonder about first night jitters and getting too amped up. Coach Payne explained the staff's way of dealing with it like this.

"You can tell these guys to let the game come to themselves but there's really no substitute for experience," Payne explained. "What we know is we've got guys who've been through it before. Tajuan and Joevan have been to the tournament twice and LeKendric and Kamryn went last year and know what it takes. Coach Kent is big on letting the veteran guys lead and show them the way as much as possible."

Thanks to Coach Payne for his insights, DSA will have more from Coach Payne as the season progresses.

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