Picked anywhere from 6th to 9th in most of the Pre-Season Pac-10 Preview's, with what seems liked a very shallow core and bench, Oregon showed they were mentally stronger then anybody else in the Conference over the long haul. They organized an offense that was extremely effective, despite only having two players who were regarded as top athletes.
One of the 1st comments I stated in last year's preview was the following; 'Coach Ernie Kent is a solid Pac-10 man, and is certainly well-regarded as a team builder. He might be the best coach in the Pac-10 at getting in his teams face, and actually communicating. He is also very proud of being the head man at Oregon, since he was a player there in the 70's. Ernie is a proven winner as well, having taken two different schools to the NCAA Tournament."
Last year, Coach Kent backed all that up…and added some new chapter's.
2001-02 was truly a magical year, and everyone around Eugene felt that way. In the off-season, not too many changes around the program occurred, however…there was a couple to denote that I feel are very important. 1st off was the graduation of the team's starting SG, Freddy Jones…who I felt was the most athletic player in the Pac-10 a year ago. Jones really made the Ducks a three-option offense. Also graduating was Chris Christoffersen, a 7'2 Giant who had some effective games throughout the past two years in league play. The other off-season news that went by predominantly unnoticed was the loss of Greg Graham, the #1 Asst Coach at OU a year ago. Graham, who was hired at Boise State, was credited throughout the year as the principal mastermind in the offensive explosiveness the Ducks developed a year ago. His replacement is John Cooper, who's coming over from South Carolina where he worked as a #2 asst for Eddie Fogler.
Moving along, here's the Roster for the impending 2002-03 Oregon Ducks;
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)
PG- Luke Ridnour, 6'2 175 Jr. (15.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.0 apg)
SG- Andre Joseph, 6'3 195 Jr. (Stephen F. Austin HS, TX/Lee JC, TX)
SF- Luke Jackson, 6'7 210 Jr. (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.2 apg)
F- Robert Johnson, 6'8 245 Sr. (7.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C- Brian Helquist, 6'9 260 Sr. (3.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.1 apg)
Key Returning Reserves:
Jay Anderson, 6'9 230 Jr. (1.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.2 apg)
Ian Crosswhite, 6'11 245 Fr. (Redshirt in 2001-02)
James Davis, 5'10 175 Jr. (6.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Matt Short, 7'0 235 Fr. (Redshirt in 2001-02)
Andre Joseph, 6'3 195 Jr (Stephen F. Austin HS, TX/Lee JC, TX)
Jordan Kent, 6'4 200 Fr. (Churchill HS, OR)
Adam Zahn, 6'8 225 Fr. (Redondo Beach HS, CA)
Brandon Lincoln, 6'4 195 Fr. (Jefferson HS, OR)
The Oregon Ducks had what I felt was the best sophomore duo in the country last year, with some writers titling the duet the 'Luke & Luke Show', referring of course to 2002-03 Pre-Season All Pac-10 1st Team'ers Luke Ridnour & Luke Jackson. Both are also Wooden Award nominees for 2002-03 as well. We'll start with the backcourt, and that means talking about Luke Ridnour 1st off. Ridnour is arguably the best NBA-prospect at the point in the Pac-10 (no offense to Jason Gardner), and he could follow a long-line of successful PG's from this conference. Lindy's Pre-Season magazine recently named him as the "Nation's Best Point Guard". He's a brilliant outside shooter, a deft passer, and just seems to be a step quicker than his opponents. He's also matured mentally, and obviously raised his game during last year's remarkable Elite Eight run. Ridnour's tempo-setting skills are extremely underated, and he's a great ballhandler. He's still a bit thin, but he's got incredible talent. Joining Ridnour in the starting group could be fellow-junior James Davis, a diminutive but explosive 2-guard who has solid experience in his time at Oregon…or newcomer Andre Joseph, a JuCo Transfer from Texas who's regarded as a top flight scoring option. Joseph totaled 22 ppg a year ago at Lee JC, shooting over 42% from behind the arc…and nearly a 90% from the charity stripe. For depth, Ernie Kent can look to two newcomers; Brandon Lincoln and Jordan Kent. Kent is the 2nd of Ernie Kent's sons' to play in the Oregon program, following Marcus Kent, who will have to red-shirt this year due to an injury. Lincoln is this year's top incoming recruit, and was a top-100 national player from Jefferson HS in Portland. He's got great size, and is regarded as a do-it-all type…and he might have a chance to jump Davis & Joseph for the starting slot. None of the options at SG will be able to replace 3rd Team All-American Freddy Jones, but combined…they might be able to lessen the loss.
On the wing was my choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2001, Luke Jackson. The award went to Sam Clancy, but I felt that by Oregon winning the Pac-10 Season Title outright (the 1st time in 57 years that Oregon had done so) - their top player should have won the award. Jackson might be the toughest match-up in the conference, since he's a lights out shooter, a quality interior guy…and simply smarter than most players on the court. His basketball IQ is as strong as any other player in the country, and I often compare him to a poor-man's Larry Bird. Jackson wont come out of the game much, as he averaged over 30 mpg a season ago, and he'll probably play close to 35 mpg this year.
In the frontcourt, the Ducks will lose some size with the loss of Christoffersen. However, they do have a nice defensive balance with Power Forward's Robert Johnson, Jay Anderson, and Brian Helquist. All three are really more designed for the 'clean-up' crew offensively, as they like to get in position close to the rim and get putbacks…but defensively, they do a pretty good job. All three gained valuable experience last year as the team played into the 4th Round of the NCAA Tournament. Johnson is the best of the group, and played quite well at times last year. Helquist might get the starting nod over Anderson, but they'll likely share time since they are both foul prone. Helping out in the frontcourt are two redshirt freshman, Matt Short & Ian Crosswhite…both of who have size, but are still considered projects. Also, Adam Zahn might see some minutes too.
The Ducks have garnered many Top 10 National Rankings already for 2002, ranging from as high as #6 to as low as #23 in some polls. And since they retain Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson, and Robert Johnson, they have back nearly 40 points of offense per game from three returning starters alone. Oregon also has an infectious passing talent, and I believe they might be the best passing and transition team in the conference. It all stems off Jackson & Ridnour though, as they are truly the two above average talents the Ducks possess…as well as the leaders. Ernie Kent will still need his players to remain injury-free, and he'll also need both Anderson & Davis to accept their roles on the bench. If Lincoln can play some quality minutes too, it might be enough to defend the Ducks Pac-10 Title. I'll slot them at #2 behind Arizona though, simply because of the talent gathered in Tucson this year. We'll find out pretty early who has the better team, as the `Cats come into Eugene in the 1st game of the Pac-10 Schedule.
For more info on the 2002-03 Ducks, please check out their website at www.goducks.com.
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