Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks won't rule the basketball world without its King

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USA Today

Oregon Ducks won't rule the basketball world without its King

The Oregon men's basketball season sits in a precarious situation. In a sport where not one player that's good enough to make millions in the NBA wants to play for free in college, the Ducks, like other programs, are continually fighting to build a national title contender before their best players move on to get paid. 

Oregon's men's basketball season ended sooner than it had hoped but also much later than anyone could have expected once the Pac-12 Conference season began without Bol Bol, lost for the season with a foot injury. The team's run to the Pac-12 tournament championship and the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, where last Thursday it fell to No. 1-seed Virginia, was accomplished with a roster that consisted of just two seniors (Paul White and Ehab Amin) and enough talented underclassmen to at least contemplate a deeper run next season. 

However, that likely won't be possible without the return of freshman Louis King, who following the team's loss to Virginia he is undecided about his future. King is the key to it all. With him, the Ducks would have the look of a Final Four contender. With out him, it's difficult to believe that the Ducks will make another strong run. 

First off, let's just get this question out of the way: Junior point guard Payton Pritchard and sophomore forward Kenny Wooten have no business leaving for the NBA at this time. Neither is listed as a potential draft pick on any mock draft out there (at least that I could find). Sure, they should test the waters, but both would be better off returning next season. If both were to leave, Oregon would have no chance of doing much of anything next season. 

Now let's return to a world where both Pritchard and Wooten do return. In this world, a team led by this duo would be quite formidable. Plus, they would be surrounded by a ton of budding talent. Guard Victor Bailey Jr., who will become a junior, is going to bust out next season. The former four-star recruit shot .39 percent from three-point range last season and should only improve his all-around game.

The 2018 recruiting class was led by five-star gems, King and Bol Bol, who will be a first-round pick in June, but also featured three four-star recruits. Guard Will Richardson, forward Miles Norris and center Francis Okoro certainly flashed great potential this season. 

Then Oregon has its incoming class led by five-star forward C.J. Walker, and four-star recruits; guard Christopher Duarte, forward Chandler Lawson and center Isaac Johnson.  

On paper, that's at least six recent four-star recruits, a five-star talent in Walker, Payton and Wooten hit the hardwood with next season. Not bad. But it's not good enough to make a Final Four run given the extreme youth. 

What that group needs is King to get them over the top. King, after Bol Bol went down with a foot injury, was easily UO's most talented player on the court. He initially struggled after missing seven games with a torn meniscus. He shot 21 of 64 (32.8 percent) over his first seven games before finding his grove. He finished at 43.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three while ranking second on the team in scoring (13.5), only behind Bol Bol (21.1) and second in rebounds (5.5), also behind his fallen teammate (9.6).

King would be the team's centerpiece. The star other teams fear. The player that could make everyone around him better by his sheer presence, especially the incoming freshmen. He is a fluid, graceful, 6-foot-9 athlete capable of getting his own shot, penetrating and dropping threes in the faces of defenders. What's not to love?

King would be this team's Dillon Brooks, who led the Ducks to the 2017 Final Four. 

Without King, the Ducks would still be good, and who knows, maybe one of the returning sophomores or incoming freshmen blows up and becomes that dawg.

That's a big "if." King is a sure thing.

Imagine, if you will, this season's Ducks team with Troy Brown as the centerpiece. 

Brown entered the NBA after his freshman season and went to the Washington Wizards at No. 16.  Had he remained at Oregon, he could have helped the Ducks maybe win the Pac-12 regular season even without Bol Bol. 

The reality is that most Final Four teams are led by either future NBA players with some seasoning, and/or battle-tested upperclassmen that play the game at such a mentally high level that younger, more talented teams can't compete. 

Look at Duke. It features two players in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett that could go one-two in this year's NBA Draft yet that team didn't go as far as the Ducks did in 2017 with not one first-round pick. The Blue Devils, before losing to Michigan State in the Elite Eight, barely got by Central Florida (77-76) and Virginia Tech (75-73). 

What the Ducks did have in 2017 were three future second-round picks in Brooks, Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey, that had been around a couple of years and were running with a senior in Chris Boucher that is now with the Atlanta Hawks after going undrafted following a knee injury. That combination of talent and experience led the Ducks to the Final Four. 

King, as an experience sophomore with NBA potential, would be deadly, much like Brooks two years ago as a junior. Brown would have been the same but he left early. The comparison of King to Brown in terms of potential impact as sophomores is real but the comparison between the two as NBA prospects is murky.

Brown pretty much had to leave. He was almost a lottery pick and is making millions. King, on the other hand, is not considered to be a sure-fire NBA Draft pick. In fact, NBADraft.net does not list King in its two-round mock draft and neither does HoopsHype.com

That all could change if King were to workout well at the NBA combine, and online mock drafts don't necessarily reflect what NFL scouts are thinking. But as of now, King doesn't appear to be a lock to get drafted. 

For Oregon's sake, it should hope that King decides to return and attempt to play his way into becoming a potential first-round pick in 2020, rather than chase the dream too soon and end up toiling in the G League. With Dana Altman coaching, the team buying into playing elite defense, a glut of young talent and the likely return of Pritchard and Wooten, Mr. King could be set up for a glorious sophomore season. 

Without him, Oregon will still be good next season. There is no denying that. But the Ducks won't have a legitimate chance of reaching the Final Four without the return of its King. 

New Oregon baseball coach Mark Wasikowski ready to “fulfill the dream” of the program

New Oregon baseball coach Mark Wasikowski ready to “fulfill the dream” of the program

Ready for a new era of Oregon baseball? New head coach Mark Wasikowski is. The 48-year-old met with the media for the first time after being officially introduced by Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens on Friday. Here are some of the most interesting takeaways.

Former players went to bat for Wasikowski (pun intended)

While interviewing six candidates for the job, Mullens had conversations with former Duck players Wasikowski coached during his time at Oregon as an assistant to former coach George Horton from 2012-16.

His players insisted that Wasikowski cared deeply about his student-athletes, developed them on and off the field and instilled a highly competitive spirit.

Big goals

One of the main reasons Wasikowski returned to Oregon was to take the program to the next level.

"I want a program that wants to push the envelope,” Wasikowski said. “I want a program where guys show up every day to not only beat people, but make a statement that Oregon baseball is for real."

His goals are simple- make it to Omaha for the College World Series and compete for national titles. He noted that when the program was rebooted, that was the vision. "It's time to fulfill the dream," Wasikowski said. The Ducks haven’t reached the tournament since 2015, the season he left to become head coach at Purdue.

Fast Hard Finish?

Although Wasikowski has a defensive philosophy, he also “wants to see the baseball hit into the gaps, hit over the fence." He plans on leaning on pitching and defense as Oregon’s sustainable product while also creating an entertaining product for fans at PK Park.

Speed was a major point of emphasis. Wasikowski stressed the value of stealing bases, and pushing tempo to put pressure on opposing teams.

Fresh slate

The Oregon baseball program is going to get a much-needed fresh start. Wasikowski said players will have a chance to forge their reputations in his eye in coming months. It’s important to note a number of current players were at the press conference.

Wasikowski also expects to complete his coaching staff in coming days.

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson focused on Auburn, aiming for National Championship

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson focused on Auburn, aiming for National Championship

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

This is the final video of the series, focused on the future of Oregon football and Johnson's last season playing college football. As a new addition and one of the oldest players on the roster, Johnson has had to balance his leadership skills in the wide receiver room. 

"All I want to do is win," said Johnson. "I hate losing... I don’t take losing well."

Juwan's goals start with winning the first game on the schedule, Oregon vs. Auburn in Cowboys Stadium in Texas

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

[WATCH PART 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby]

[WATCH PART 4: Juwan Johnson describes the Oregon wide receiver room]

Red flags and stress: NBA analyst says pass on Bol Bol

Red flags and stress: NBA analyst says pass on Bol Bol

The highest-rated basketball player to ever sign with Oregon who seemed to have come and gone in a blink of an eye. With the NBA Draft right around the corner, there are some hot takes on Bol Bol.

It’s easy to see why Bol is one of the most intriguing players in the 2019 NBA draft: 7-foot 2 centers with 7-foot-8 wingspans with terrific outside shooting (52 percent from three) don’t come along often. In his nine games with the Ducks, he led the team in points (21.0 per game), rebounds (9.6) and blocks (2.7).

However, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports is saying to pass on the former 5-star recruit who has been pegged as a boom-or-bust prospect. Here are the red flags:

Bol’s measurements

Bol weighed in 208 pounds, the same weight as Duke’s 6'8" Cam Reddish. He also was listed at 7.1 percent body fat, one of the highest percentages measured. On the 2018-19 Oregon basketball roster, Bol was listed as 235 pounds before his season ending foot injury. It’s highly possible Oregon rounded up on his weight, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that the 18-year-old has dropped almost 30 pounds. However, NBA teams will want to see him get stronger and put on more weight.

Who will Bol be able to guard in the NBA?

“For someone that can be such a high-level rim protector when he wants to be, Bol is just a terrible defender. In an era where versatility and positionless basketball has become king, the saying you’ll hear in coaching circles is, “You are who you can guard,” says Dauster.

“He also has nowhere near the footspeed or lateral quickness to be able to defend anyone on the perimeter. The idea of asking him to switch a pick-and-roll and try to stay in front of any NBA guard will cost his coaching staff next season at least two hours of sleep every night before a game.”

Durability/Endurance

Durability is the biggest issue that surrounds Bol as he joined a large group of seven-footers with foot problems. He has dealt with various injuries throughout his basketball career and questions will linger until he’s back on the court.

“If his conditioning was an issue playing just nine games at the college level, will he be able to handle the rigors of an 82-game season while carrying 250-260 pounds in an ideal world?” says Dauster.

Work ethic

How much does Bol like basketball? Work ethic and mentality concerns have loomed around Bol since coming out of high school. At Oregon, sometimes he’d float on the perimeter and shy away from contact. How hard is he willing to work to develop into the best NBA player he can be?

“He needs to live in the weight room for his first two or three seasons in the NBA. When he’s not in the weight room, he needs to be in the practice gym, learning how to play and where to be on the defensive side of the ball,” says Dauster.

 

Bol’s talent was undeniable during his short stint in green and yellow. But did he display enough of his immense potential before the season ending injury to wipe away the red flag durability concerns?

Bol’s ceiling is high as a floor-spacing, rim-protecting big man. But does his potential for stardom outweigh the possibility of a bust? And if so, which team will roll the dice on his unique skillset?

A lot of questions and not many answers… Stay tuned for more as the 2019 NBA Draft begins June 20.

Former Ducks QB Darron Thomas back on the gridiron at Jefferson High School

Former Ducks QB Darron Thomas back on the gridiron at Jefferson High School

The outstanding, Rose Bowl winning, National Title contending quarterback is back on the gridiron. 

On Tuesday, Darron Thomas was hired to the coaching staff of the Jefferson High School Democrats football team. Located in north Portland, Oregon, Thomas will be Run Game Coordinator and Strength & Conditioning coach.

JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL:

The Democrats football program has a history of excellence: Heisman Trophy Winner; No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft; A member in the NFL Hall of Fame. But the Demos are going through quite the coaching turnover as of recent news.

The same day, the Demos also hired former Oregon Ducks DB Dominique Harrison as the new DB coach. 

Also, Houston Lillard (Damian Lillard's brother):

AT OREGON:

Just a freshman prodigy from Houston, Texas, Thomas arrived in Eugene, Oregon in 2008 in what would be one heck of a collegiate career for the Ducks. In 2011, he lead the Ducks his Junior season to a 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin earning Oregon it’s first National Championship appearance in the school’s history. 

Thomas and Harrison join Keanon Lowe (Parkrose High School) as other former Oregon Ducks to coach in the greater Portland High School scene. 

Official: Oregon baseball hires new coach

Official: Oregon baseball hires new coach

After parting ways with former coach George Horton, Oregon baseball has found their new head coach... and you may already know him. 

The following is from the UO athletic department:

EUGENE, Ore. –University of Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens announced today that Mark Wasikowski has been named the head baseball coach for the Ducks. Wasikowski has served as the head coach at Purdue University for the last three seasons (2017-19) and was an assistant coach at Oregon the previous five seasons (2012-16).

“We are excited to add a high-energy and experienced coach in Mark to lead our baseball program,” Mullens said. “He has an outstanding work ethic and a track record as an excellent recruiter, and we expect to compete for championships under his leadership. Mark has a wide breadth of experience in both the Pac-12 and beyond, and we are confident that the success on the horizon as well as his high level of engagement will provide a first-class experience for our baseball student-athletes.”

Wasikowski led Purdue to a 39-win season in 2018, leading the Boilermakers to only the third NCAA Regional appearance in school history and only the second since 1982. The 2018 Purdue team won 22 of its last 27 regular season games, including a 13-game winning streak, and finished second in the Big Ten both during the regular season and the postseason conference tournament.

“I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity from Rob Mullens, Eric Roedl and the University of Oregon administration,” Wasikowski said. “Roughly 12 years ago, a dream and a vision from Pat Kilkenny, Joe Giansante, and Hall of Fame coach George Horton started the Oregon baseball program. The program literally started from scratch and is now in a solid position moving forward. We will not shy away from the goal of playing for and winning a National Championship, as challenging as that will be. My family and I are thrilled for the opportunity in Eugene, and I can’t wait to get to work. Go Ducks!”

During his first season at Purdue, Wasikowski led the Boilermakers to 29 wins, a 19-win improvement from the 10-44 campaign the team had the year before his arrival. Wasikowski is 87-82 (.515) in his three years as the head coach at Purdue, and the three years before his arrival saw the Boilermakers post a combined winning percentage of .272 (43-115). His consecutive winning seasons with Purdue from 2017-18 marked only the second such occurrence for the school since 2003-04. In his first season at Purdue in 2017, the team was 8-3 in one-run games after posting a 2-13 record in those games the year before.

During Wasikowski’s five seasons as an assistant at Oregon, the Ducks compiled a 205-106 (.659) record and advanced to postseason play four times, including the 2012 Super Regionals. UO averaged 41 wins during that stretch, with three seasons of 40-plus wins that included a school-record 48 victories in 2013. From 2012-15 the Ducks won 176 games, tied for the sixth-most in the nation during that four-year span.

The starting third baseman and a captain of the 1992 Pepperdine national championship team, Wasikowski began his coaching career as a student assistant for the Waves in 1994. In addition to his stint with the Ducks, he served as an assistant coach under Andy Lopez at Arizona for 10 seasons (2002-11) and at Florida for three years (1999-2001). Wasikowski also spent two seasons (1997-1998) at Southeast Missouri State. The teams for whom he has coached have appeared in a Regional Tournament in 15 of his 23 seasons.

Wasikowski is married to Lori Jo, and the couple has two daughters, Joelle and Kelsey.

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson describes "competitive" wide receiver room

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson describes "competitive" wide receiver room

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

As a new addition and one of the oldest players on the roster, Johnson has an interesting perspective on the Oregon wide receiver room. 

Does it feel like a good problem to have so many receivers vying for playing time and Justin Herbert’s passes?

"It’s a very good problem," Johnson said. "It doesn’t create tension but it definitely creates competition in the room. The last thing you need is a receiver feeling comfortable in his position. I came here to play… I expect everyone else to elevate their game because I’m here, the freshman that are coming in or the old guys who are improving their game."

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

[WATCH PART 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby]

Oregon football offseason updates: 6 takeaways from Mario Cristobal

Oregon football offseason updates: 6 takeaways from Mario Cristobal

College football is creeping in… Ready for some Duck football updates? Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal met with the media prior to the Portland Golf Classic at Langdon Farms Golf Club on Monday. Here are the biggest takeaways:

1. FOOTBALL STAFF IS NOT ON PAR

Cristobal is admittedly bad at golf, has never played 18 holes and spends a lot of time recruiting while he is on the greens. In fact, he said the entire UO football staff is not good on the golf course. He thinks it is a good sign that his staff is much better at their jobs than golfing.

2. 500 POUND SQUAT CLUB IS GROWING

The Ducks are getting after it in the weight room as apart of their offseason strength and conditioning program. Junior defensive lineman Jordon Scott posted a video squatting 605 pounds and freshman defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux just joined the 500-pound squat club.

Last year, Oregon had 29 players who could squad 400 or more pounds. That number has almost doubled to 56 players in the “400 club”, according to Cristobal. 15 Ducks can squat 500 pounds compared to three a year ago. He gave a special shout out to the seniors who have been leading the way in the weight room.

3. CRISTOBAL IS PROUD OF THE DUCKS IN THE COMMUNITY

Oregon football has been ever present in the community this offseason. The Ducks had almost 60 players volunteer for the Oregon football women’s clinic and quarterback Justin Herbert spends a lot of his time in the OHeroes program.

“There is no head faking, there is no putting on a show,” Cristobal said. “I’m proud of the fact that they chose to be apart of the community and chose to give back because if it’s forced, it’s not the same. Our players are made of the right stuff on the inside and that’s what we are most proud of.”

4. THE REST OF UO’S BEST EVER RECRUITING CLASS ON CAMPUS IN TWO WEEKS

It was all eyes on Oregon’s 11 early enrollees during spring football practices. Now, the rest of Oregon’s highest-rated class is headed to Eugene and will arrive on campus on June 22-23.

The remaining four-star recruits that will officially join the team in two weeks are: linebacker Masu Funa, wide receiver Lance Wilhoite, offensive lineman Jonah Tauanu'u, running back Sean Dollars and defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson.

“They have about four-and-a-half weeks to prepare for their first collegiate season,” said Cristobal. “They have about four-and-a-half weeks to do a great job in the classroom, learn the systems, get in the best shape they can, attack every phase of the process we have set for them before a small break before we start fall camp.”

5. NATE COSTA JOINING THE STAFF IS A BIG DEAL

Cristobal praised former Oregon quarterback Nate Costa, who played for Oregon from 2006-10. Cristobal hired Costa as a Senior Offensive Analyst in March but it’s not the first time the two have met.

“I met Nate three years ago,” Cristobal said. “While I was in Tuscaloosa, he came in for an interview… Super bright guy with an extremely high football I.Q. He has been in a couple different systems and has done some coaching as well at IMG. He’s a very well respected guy and a guy that will, without question, help us offensively.”

6. OREGON IS HIGHLY MONITORING TRANSFER PORTAL

Since the NCAA has altered the transfer rules, granting a larger number of waivers for immediate eligibility, many programs have adjusted their strategies. The Ducks aren't making any drastic changes but always on high alert when it comes to the transfer portal.

"If you have to change because of the transfer portal, you're probably not doing it right to begin with. I say that very openly and honestly," Cristobal said. "If you have to change what you are because of an adjustment, I think that’s a problem. We don’t change, we are what we are, 24/7, 365. We do things the right way, we work extremely hard, we’re demanding but not demeaning. We take care of our players but we also make sure to challenge them and push them to reach their highest potential. “

Talkin’ with the Ducks pt. 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby

Talkin’ with the Ducks pt. 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

In part three, get to know Johnson better with rapid fire questions. Learn about his very specific pregame rituals and his secret hobby. Also, what is the meaning behind his touchdown celebration?

"It’s kind of cocky but sometimes you have to have a little ego when you are playing football," Johnson said. 

Former Oregon QB Chris Miller to become Houston offensive coordinator in XFL

Former Oregon QB Chris Miller to become Houston offensive coordinator in XFL

Chris Miller is turning in the Friday night lights for the big leagues.  

The Oregon native (Sheldon High School, Eugene, OR) is packing up his Oregon roots and headed south to Houston, Texas as he has accepted the Offensive Coordinator position for the city’s XFL team. 

Miller started his high school football journey in small-town Eugene and continued his gridiron dreams just 2.7 miles down the road to Autzen Stadium where he went on to be the starting quarterback for the University of Oregon (1983-1986). He became a first round draft pick in the 1987 NFL Draft (Rd 1 / Pick 13 to the Atlanta Falcons) and had a 10-year career that was ultimately halted by concussions. 

Miller then dropped the helmet and turned it into a headset. He started as the coach of South Eugene High School (2001-2006 in Eugene, Oregon), before heading into the NFL to coach with the Arizona Cardinals (2009-2012). He then returned back to South Eugene high school coaching for one season before taking the head coaching position at West Linn high school (Portland, Oregon). 

Miller lead the Lions to a 6A state championship in 2016.

Miller was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. 

What is the XFL?

Get ready football fans, the XFL is coming to a TV near you in 2020. If your immediate reaction to this football league news is “yikes”, then you’re not alone as many are wondering why the reincarnation of the XFL was announced with the news of the AAF (American Alliance of Football) getting cancelled. 

But have no fear, the XFL existed before. It is an eight-team, 10-week regular season followed by a postseason league. The teams are Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C.

How does the XFL differ from the NFL? According to the XFL’s home website, “Faster, with more plays, less stall, fewer interruptions and no gimmicks.”