Oregon Ducks

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert on Saturday dealt what appeared to be a virtual knockout blow to end the quarterback competition between him, Travis Jonsen and Braxton Burmeister.

Herbert, while passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns to lead Team Free to a 34-11 victory over Team Brave, displayed what most already knew - that he is by far the best quarterback on the Ducks' roster. 

Redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. knew it. That's why last year's No. 3 quarterback decided two weeks into spring drills that he would be better off transferring. Jonsen, the No. 4 quarterback last year, has to know it by now after completing 5 of 15 passes for 86 yards and an interception while starting for Team Brave during in his third spring game at Oregon. If Burmeister, a true freshman, doesn't already know it then the talented four-star recruit will next fall when the "redshirt" label is slapped on him a week before the Southern Utah game. 

The hunch here is that Oregon coach Willie Taggart knows it, as well. He just isn't ready to state as much publicly. That's because something is gnawing at him, something he can't easily let go despite Herbert's clear superiority to the competition.  

Taggart is looking for a leader at quarterback and he doesn't see one just yet. 

When asked Saturday about Herbert's spring game performance having maybe ended the competition, the first-year Oregon coach first downplayed the performance by stating that it was just one of many outings during 15 days of spring drills.

"He had a hell of a scrimmage today but he had some bad practices, too," Taggart said. "And they all have throughout spring ball...They've all had some up and downs."

Then Taggart attacked the true crux of the situation. 

"For me, personally," Taggart said. "I'm looking for more than just throwing touchdowns. I'm looking for a guy that can lead this football team. A guy that's going to rally everybody on this team, not just the offensive guys but defense and everyone. When we can find that guy, that's when we are going to name a starter."

Translation: Herbert's leadership skills are lacking and holding him back.  

It's a concern for Taggart, a former college quarterback. Unfortunately for UO, this could be a concern that lingers well beyond next season unless Herbert makes a dramatic transformation in his overall demeanor. Taggart wants a vocal leader. Herbert is quiet. Taggart wants someone to motivate the entire roster. Herbert isn't quite fully comfortable getting after his receivers or linemen, let alone everyone in a helmet. Taggart wants a quarterback who rolls through adversity. Herbert sometimes struggles when things go badly. 

The rub here is that Jonsen and Burmeister haven't distinguished themselves as leaders, either. So while Taggart is clearly looking for that alpha dog quarterback, he might have to settle for a beta at the helm of his offense next fall. 

That doesn't have to be all bad, especially if that beta is as talented as Herbert, who last year threw for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts.  

Taggart talked yesterday about how the Ducks used to rally around former quarterback Marcus Mariota. Taggart wants to see the same dynamic develop under his first starting quarterback at Oregon. 

The irony here is that Taggart might have had some of the same reservations about Mariota at the same age as Herbert is now.

Let's jump into the wayback machine for a minute. 

Mariota had the benefit of redshirting as a freshman behind Darron Thomas before becoming the starter his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Mariota was hardly a leader of men at that time. In fact, there were still major questions about his leadership abilities following the 2013 season, his third year in the program.

One of the reasons Mariota elected to make the NFL wait and return to UO in 2014 was because he and his family didn't believe that he was ready to lead an NFL locker room full of grown men. Mariota stayed and improved his leadership skills during his final season at Oregon while also winning the Heisman Trophy. Still, he never blossomed into a classic vocal, alpha male quarterback. NFL scouts even questioned his leadership abilities heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Those questions persist even today, albeit they have lessened annually as he continues to grow as a leader and develop as a quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. 

Then there's Herbert, who grew up idolizing Mariota and has the ability to one day contend for a Heisman and become a high draft pick. Not simply for his abilities, but for his demeanor. When Herbert took the program by storm, some called him "Mariota 2.0" and "Herbiota" because he mirrored Mariota's innate ability to process information, remain cool under pressure and make the right play, as well as make the spectacular seem routine. 

But they also share another trait that isn't a positive for the quarterback position. Like Mariota as a redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore, Herbert is more of an introvert on the field. Being a leader does not come naturally for him, as it didn't for Mariota. 

Herbert also is a mirror image of Mariota during interviews. Trying to squeeze a good quote out of either of them is like attempting to extract the milk from a coconut with a can opener. 

Herbert said Saturday that he is gradually becoming more comfortable with his role and that Taggart has been instrumental in his development. 

"Having a guy like coach T, it definitely helps," Herbert said. "He's very personable. And having guys around me that I'm comfortable with is also a huge bonus because I can be myself around them."

It cannot be understated just how much Herbert is still a kid. At this point last year he was playing high school baseball and getting ready for the Sheldon High School prom. Now he is viewed as the potential savior of a program that just underwent an emotional and difficult separation from it's former staff of long-time coaches following a disastrous 4-8 season and handed the reigns to a young coach easing into his first Power Five Conference job.

Herbert is learning his second college offense in nine months, so one would expect him to have "ups and downs" during a 15-practice spring stretch. Herbert had bad days last fall, as well, which is why he didn't beat out senior Dakota Prukop during fall camp. But once he settled into the offense, it became clear to former coach Mark Helfrich and his staff that they had to get Herbert onto the field.

If not for UO's pitiful defense (41.4 points allowed per game), and a down season for injury-plagued running back Royce Freeman, Herbert's impressive play might have saved the jobs of the former coaching staff. His numbers per game were on par with Mariota's in 2012 when the team went 12-1, and and in 2013, when the Ducks were 11-2. 

But while Herbert played his position well, he wasn't nearly ready to carry a team on his back, physically or emotionally.  Anyone who believes a young Mariota could have won more with last year's team would be mistaken. The 2012 Oregon defense allowed 21.6 points allowed per game. Running back Kenjon Barner flirted with being a Heisman Trophy candidate while assisting Mariota with 1,717 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

All of that said, one major difference exists when comparing the two at the same age. Mariota better handled adversity. Herbert, according to a source on last year's team, could at times become fragile emotionally when things went badly. That trait popped up again here and there during spring, according to a current team source. Mariota, on the other hand, led by example with his demeanor despite not being vocal, and inspired his teammates with his steely presence. 

Again, we're talking about a young man who just turned 19 in March and has yet to have completed his first year of college. So, it's not a knock on Herbert that he is still maturing. It's just a fact, and one that Taggart is allowing to be a factor as he evaluates the quarterback position. 

That all said, Oregon's best chance for a quick turnaround in 2017 is for Herbert to be at the helm, not Jonsen or Burmeister. But Taggart believes that if Herbert can improve his temperament and leadership skills, the Ducks could win more games than it would otherwise. 

Taggart has seen quarterbacks with strong personalities turn teams around before. 

While a running backs coach at Stanford in 2009, Taggart watched Andrew Luck blossom into a leader and change the overall culture and mentality of the team as a redshirt freshman. As the head coach at South Florida, Taggart didn't start tasting success until quarterback Quinton Flowers grew into a leader that his teammates rallied around as a sophomore in 2015.

Herbert will be entering year two of his college career next fall. He has accomplished more than Luck, Flowers and Mariota had entering their second years on a college campus, but Herbert lags behind in just that one area of concern.  

Another point must also be made here. Taggart might be looking for a leader but he needs a baller at quarterback, first and foremost. 

In the days leading up to the spring game, Taggart said he wanted to see which players would "show up and show out." Strange things, as he put it, happen to players when they enter a game situation and must perform under the spotlight.

To that end, Herbert delivered, as he did most of last season, while Jonsen and Burmeister faltered. 

Whatever temperament issues Herbert might have, this is still a guy who played better as the game went on against eventual Pac-12 champion Washington during a 71-20 loss at Autzen Stadium. He brought Oregon back at California with six touchdown passes only to fall short in overtime. And, Herbert led the Ducks on a game-winning drive in the final minute at Utah. The game-winner, with seconds remaining, went to Darren Carrington II in the corner of the end zone on a throw that NFL superstars, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady could not exceed.  

So, Herbert has indeed proven he can bounce back from adversity. His talent is undeniable. The question entering the summer will be, can he take is overall mental makeup to the next level sooner, rather than later. 

Taggart said he is looking for team leadership across the board over the summer on a team that last season suffered from a severe lack of leaders. 

"I think the offseason is going to be big," Taggart said. "When I talk about who can lead this team, who can get their teammates out there to work on their craft when the coaches can't be there."

Taggart said he didn't see enough of self-starter mentality in January from anyone, even the quarterbacks. He hopes to see it more this summer. 

"It starts with the quarterback," Taggart said. "Who can get his teammates to go out there and work when the NCAA doesn't allow us to be out there with them. That's what's going to make us a better football team."

Herbert's physical play will give the Ducks a chance to win most games on their schedule next season. But UO likely won't contend for a Pac-12 title until Herbert's leadership skills and temperament catch up with his elite-level physical gifts. 

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) is on track to the Pac-12 Conference Title game and in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. Coming off a bye, a Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship.

Numbers to know: In the last 12 games between Oregon and Arizona, the Ducks are 7-0 when scoring more than 40 points per game and 0-5 when scoring less than 40.

Fun factOregon leads the nation with 17 interceptions, which is the program's most through nine games since 1988. The Ducks' 11.78 points off turnovers per game ranks second in the country and is a major contributing factor in the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak.

Betting line: Oregon opened as 26.5 point favorites over Arizona, which marks the Ducks’ sixth straight home game as a double-digit favorite.

Players to keep an eye on

Running back J.J. Taylor

With 3,108 career rushing yards, J.J. Taylor has the 12th most rushing yards by any active Division I player. He has also moved up to No. 6 on Arizona's career rushing list and is 56 yards away from passing Mike Bell for fifth all-time.  

Oregon had no answer for Taylor in last season’s Arizona win, rushing for 212 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns against UO. Taylor has 566 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Linebacker Colin Schooler

Schooler has 42 career tackles-for-loss, which is tied for fourth-most by an active Division I player. His 37 career solo tackles for loss are second-most nationally by an active player and the most by a linebacker.

What’s the deal at quarterback?

Oregon is preparing for both true senior Khalil Tate and freshman Grant Gunnell. Tate has started in Arizona’s last four games (all loses) but has split time with Gunnel in all of those starts.

Tate has passed for 6,001 yards in his career, which ranks sixth-most in program history. The senior is erratic at times and sensational at times. Gunnell has completing 66.4 percent of his passes this year, which currently ranks as the best ever by an Arizona freshman quarterback.

3 keys to an Oregon victory

Playing with passion, not emotion

Arizona has beaten Oregon in each of the past three matchups where the Wildcats enter unranked and the Ducks enter ranked. The Wildcats upset No. 19 Oregon last season. With redemption on the horizon, the Ducks must play with focused passion instead of blurred vengeance. Coming off a bye week, it’d be easy for Oregon to lose the positive momentum of its eight-game winning streak. Those uncharacteristic penalties must be eliminated. Staying disciplined and setting the tone early is important for an Oregon victory.

Limit big Wildcat plays

Arizona has had five plays go for 70 or more yards this season. Only Oklahoma State, Alabama, Colorado State and UCF have more. The Wildcats’ total offense (495.8 yards per game) ranks second in the Pac-12 and 12th in the country. The Duck defense must limit Arizona’s receivers and Taylor to short plays to keep this potential season altering upset at bay.

Let Herbert loose

Fresh off a three-touchdown pass performance against USC, Herbert’s elite arm should light up a suspect Arizona defense. Herbert connected on 20 of his final 21 passes after starting the game 1-for-5 and tacked on a rushing touchdown. Now, it’s time to build on that dominance this Saturday. I expect Herbert to continue to find wide receiver Juwan Johnson, continuing to bloom their explosive chemistry.

Fun fact, Oregon is averaging 44.2 points per game in Justin Herbert's 20 career starts (17-3) at Autzen Stadium.

How and where to watch

Time: Saturday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. (PT)

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

TV: ESPN

Radio: KUGN-AM (590), KUJZ-FM (95.3), KZEL-FM (96.1)

Dana Altman will unleash the freshmen soon

Dana Altman will unleash the freshmen soon

The No. 14 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 13 Memphis Tigers at the inaugural Phil Knight Invitational 82-74 at Moda Center.

After the game, Oregon head coach Dana Altman discussed how he thinks the freshmen are coming along.

As the season goes on and they get more comfortable... their talent will come through...so as the season progresses and they get more experience, I’ll be a bit more comfortable [to play them more].

Altman relied mostly on his returning players against the Tigers because they had been there before. He specifically cited sophomores Will Richardson and Francis Okoro as players who learned what it took to win last season and how he hopes that rubs off on this freshman class as the year progresses.

You can watch Altman’s full evaluation of the freshmen in the video above.

Instant Analysis: Ducks hold off Tigers in Phil Knight Invitational opener

Instant Analysis: Ducks hold off Tigers in Phil Knight Invitational opener

The No. 14 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 13 Memphis Tigers 82-74 at the Moda Center to open the Phil Knight Invitational, led by Shakur Juiston, the Ducks used their experience to outplay the young Tigers. 

Here are some takeaways from the game.

Ducks’ defense as stingy as ever

The Ducks played defense out of their patented 2-3 match-up zone and a three-quarter-court press. They funneled all actions into the teeth of the defense, contested each shot and lived with the results. It's a formula that has done wonders for Altman’s teams. Against a young team like Memphis that starts five freshmen, it sped them up and forced them to rush outside shots or just lose the ball. In the first half alone, Memphis had eight turnovers and air balled multiple three pointers. 

Sloppy play lets Memphis linger around

All eyes going into the game were on James Wiseman. However, the freshman phenom and potential first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft picked up two quick fouls and sat the remainder of the first half. The Ducks used that time to take a double-digit lead before losing it to trail late in the half. Whenever the teams played in the half court, the Ducks looked vastly superior. But the Ducks turned the ball over 11 times in the first half leading to 20 Memphis points. When teams are struggling, especially missing their best player, the Ducks need to finish the game right there and not let the opponent linger around.

Memphis would go on to open the second half of a 14-7 run to take a one point advantage. The Ducks would respond, but, should never have been in that position to begin with.

The local kids are game changers

The last time Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis shared a backcourt while attending West Linn high school, they won back-to-back-to-back state championships. They’re looking to continue that championship streak this season in the form of a Pac-12 title, or something greater.

Their chemistry and compatibility has been evident this season. Pritchard entered the season a preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 player of the year, and Mathis was supposed to supply scorching shooting. They have both delivered on their expectations, so far. Pritchard always looks to be in command of the game, especially against a young team like Memphis. Mathis shot the three well, making four of five three-point attempts en route to 12 points. 

Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers in action at the Phil Knight Invitational, follow along on social

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USATI

Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers in action at the Phil Knight Invitational, follow along on social

Tonight is the second interation Phil Knight Invitational at the Moda Center. The first, PK80, was held in November 2017. 

The action will tip off at 6:00pm PST with the No. 13 Memphis Tigers playing the No. 14 Oregon Ducks in a matchup of ranked teams. 

The headliner will be Memphis center James Wiseman who may go first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, and was recently declared ineligible by the NCAA. Memphis believes their decision is wrong and will be playing him anyways while the matter gets settled in court.

The Ducks return Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Payton Pritchard at point guard and will field other notable transfers. They will be without freshman center N’Faly Dante who’s ineligible for the first nine games of the season since he cannot enroll at the University of Oregon until December 14th. In addition, starting center Francis Okoro got hit by a car last week in Eugene and his status for today’s contest in unknown.

The second matchup will be between the Oklahoma Sooners and Oregon State Beavers and tipoff following Oregon-Memphis concludes (approx. 8pm).

The Sooners were picked to finish eighth in the Big-12 this season in the preseason media poll but can easily outplay expectations. The Beavers return senior Tres Tinkle who also is a Pac-12 player of the year candidate. In Vegas, the Beavers are slight underdogs but have enough talent to win. 

Dylan Mickanen will be on site reporting on both games. Feel free to follow along on social as well.

No. 6 Oregon in excellent position in CFB Playoff Poll: Patience is required

No. 6 Oregon in excellent position in CFB Playoff Poll: Patience is required

The College Football Playoff committee released its second rankings and Oregon jumped from No. 7 to No. 6.

The Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) were idle this weekend but moved up one spot to No. 6 in the Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll because of shakeups in the college football landscape. This jump generated anticipation that the same would hold true in the rankings that matter: the CFB Playoff rankings. Those hopes were realized.

After Alabama’s loss to No. 1 LSU the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 5. Then, Minnesota rose to No. 8 after upsetting Penn State (who fell to No. 9). That created space for Oregon to grab the No. 6 spot.

It’s important to remember that today’s rankings are largely for entertainment value, considering how much football is yet to be played. While they do set the tone, the important playoff rankings will be released in a month. I’ve already detailed why Oregon’s current spot doesn’t matter.

It’s going to take patience for Oregon to break into the top four spots. A Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship. But that won’t be enough to move the needle. Neither will victories over Arizona State or Oregon State.

The streaking Ducks can make a real case on December 6th in Levi’s Stadium. A Pac-12 Title and a win over a high ranked Utah team would be the resume piece to make it interesting on the committee. Utah is currently ranked No. 7 in the CFB Playoff Poll.

The first three playoff spots seem likely concrete: the SEC champion, the Big Ten champion and a 13–0 Clemson winning the Atlantic Coast Conference. The fourth spot? A Pac-12 champion Oregon team with a 12-1 record and a “good loss” to No. 12 Auburn, would certainly get a good shot.

The CFB Playoff committee’s protocol is mostly based on eye test and places an emphasis on four things if teams are comparable: 1. Championships won. 2. Strength of schedule. 3. Head-to-head competition (if it occurred). 4. Outcomes against common opponents.

My advice? Cheer for the Ducks to win out and ignore these rankings until Selection Sunday on December, 8th. Patience is a virtue.

MORE DUCKS

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments on expanding Mykael Wright’s role

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) is on track to the Pac-12 Conference Title game and in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. The Ducks have three conference games left and Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) is the next opponent they must beat. The Ducks are coming off a bye with a lot on line… Here are 10 numbers you need to know about the 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Autzen Stadium.

CROWN ON THE LINE

A Duck win against the Wildcats in the Pac-12-After-Dark game would clinch the North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship. It would be Oregon’s third Pac-12 North crown.

AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE

Oregon is one of five FBS teams (Baylor, Clemson, Minnesota, Ohio State) off to a 6-0 start in conference play. 

BETTING LINE

Oregon opened as 26.5 point favorites over Arizona, which marks the Ducks’ sixth straight home game as a double-digit favorite.

BALL HAWKS

Oregon leads the nation with 17 interceptions, which is the program's most through nine games since 1988. The Ducks' 11.78 points off turnovers per game ranks second in the country and is a major contributing factor in the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak. Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III each have four picks, leading the team. Eleven different Ducks have recorded an interception.

DON’T MESS WITH HOLLAND

Holland, a sophomore, leads active Pac-12 players in career interceptions with nine. The Jim Thorpe semifinalist is tied for the most career interceptions among sophomores in the nation.

UPSET HISTORY

Arizona has beaten Oregon each of the past three matchups where the Wildcats enter unranked and the Ducks enter ranked. The Wildcats topped No. 19 Oregon, 44-15 last year that featured Arizona running back J.J. Taylor rushing for 212 yards and two scores.

THE MAGIC NUMBER, 40

In the last 12 games between Oregon and Arizona, the Ducks are 7-0 when scoring more than 40 points per game and 0-5 when scoring less than 40.

GOOD INJURY UPDATE

Oregon’s top two running backs, backs CJ Verdell (groin) and Cyrus Habibi-Likio (quad) are expected to play against Arizona. Starting right guard Dallas Warmack (hip flexor) is also good to go.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE TAYLOR

Arizona’s rushing attack ranks second in the Pac-12, led by JJ Taylor who is ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing with 566 yards. The Wildcats’ total offense (495.8 yards per game) ranks 12th in the country and second in the conference.

EXPLOSION PLAY ALERT

Arizona has had five plays go for 70 or more yards this season. Across the country, only Oklahoma State, Alabama, Colorado State and UCF have more.

MORE DUCKS

Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments on expanding Mykael Wright’s role

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Oregon senior superstar Sabrina Ionescu is tearing up the record books and becoming a household name. Fresh off a Final Four run, Ionescu and the top-ranked Oregon women’s basketball team have their sights on winning it all this season and earning the program’s first national title. And now, Ducks fans can represent the “Triple-Double Queen.”

Well, once the number 20 jerseys are back in stock, that is.

On Monday afternoon, the Oregon Duck store released a “White Nike Replica Oregon #20 Basketball Jersey” for $75. As of Tuesday morning, the jerseys are sold out in every size. No word on when an official re-stock may happen.

Nike will begin to sell a number 20 Oregon college replica jersey in apple green later in the basketball season. The Duck store will also carry it.

The chance for Oregon fans to purchase the replica jerseys is a long time coming. Ionescu has made her opinion known on social media and fans began a petition to Nike in April.

Ionescu’s support worked and the female star tweeted her gratification.

Oregon’s next game is at home versus Utah State on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

The PK Invitational is going to feature an entire level of intrigue that nobody could have seen coming when it unfolds Tuesday night in Moda Center.

The University of Memphis is coming to Portland to meet the Ducks in the 6 p.m. opening game and Oregon State takes on Oklahoma in the 8 o’clock nightcap of the doubleheader.

And Memphis is bringing a very big controversy and a big-time player who will likely be in uniform for the Tigers against the Ducks – one of the top prospects in the country, James Wiseman, a 7-1, 240-pound freshman center.

Wiseman has a group of sharp lawyers on his side and the University of Memphis, too, after the NCAA had declared him ineligible for accepting money from a Memphis booster.

And that booster? It was current Memphis coach and former NBA all-star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Stay with me here, because this is a tangled web that seems to be what holds college basketball together these days. Hardaway was the head coach at Memphis East High School, where he won two Tennessee state championships. As you may guess, Hardaway was also an AAU coach in the summer, where he presumably met Wiseman. After Wiseman’s junior year of high school in Nashville, Hardaway reportedly provided $11,500 to Wiseman’s mother for moving expenses, so that her son could play for Hardaway in Memphis.

Hardaway had no connection to the university – except he had made a $1 million donation to the school’s athletic department in 2008. Which, in the eyes of the NCAA, classifies him as a booster of the school. Which means he can’t be handing money out to the mother of a recruit.

The NCAA made its ruling and the university launched its own investigation alongside the one by the NCAA. And the school disagrees with the proposition that Hardaway was a “booster” and believes the player to be eligible. They suited him up for a game last week and he was spotted boarding the team plane for Portland Sunday night. A couple of local Memphis lawyers have signed on to get the case into court and that is supposed to happen next week.

In the meantime, all of college basketball will be watching the Ducks and Tigers – and Wiseman – Tuesday night in Portland, wondering if the kid will end up causing forfeits of any games the Tigers win or leads them to great heights as the No. 1 recruit in the country and the leader of the top recruiting class this season.

The Ducks are undefeated at 2-0 and trying to establish themselves as a tournament threat again.

In the second game Tuesday in the tournament that honors Nike founder Phil Knight, the Beavers and Sooners will also try to get a good jump on what they believe will be promising seasons.

Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments on expanding Mykael Wright’s role

Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments on expanding Mykael Wright’s role

Oregon true freshman Mykael Wright has earned the nickname “silent assassin” from his teammates. His quiet demeanor, number two jersey and superstar type skills draw the comparison to NBA star Kawhi Leonard. The cornerback lived up to that label in the No. 7 Ducks’ win over USC when he killed USC's momentum and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the first half.

The speedy freshman had only regularly began working as a kick returner earlier that week. However, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal was not shocked when Wright completely transformed the energy of the game. The top-ranked cornerback in the nation (ESPN, 2019) returned punts in high school and provided tape highlights, which Cristobal often refers to. Cristobal instantly noticed Wright’s natural instincts as a returner.

“Naturally, when the ball is in the air, he knows how to get to it,” Cristobal said. "He knows how to handle receivers and handle guys who show late hands. When he’s had the ball in his hands in practice when he gets a pick or something of that nature, he just has a natural feel for following his blockers or setting up his blocks.”

His versatility has provided a solid foundation and a major strength for Oregon. During his two seasons at Valencia high school in California, Wright had nine interceptions and 25 tackles on defense. On offense, he picked up 1,986 receiving yards in addition to 26 touchdowns.

Entering this season, junior starting cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. tabbed Wright as a future freshman All-American. Now, Cristobal is game planning an increased role for Wright.

“Without question, he’s an electrifying player back there,” Cristobal said. “I think the more he does it, the better and better he’ll get. We don’t want to extend him too much because he’s got a lot going on with special teams and playing corner for us, but his role on teams is going to expand.”

The natural playmaker’s next opportunity will come this Saturday night, as Oregon looks to beat Arizona to officially punch its ticket to the Pac-12 Conference title game.