By Rob Moseley
Call them the Elite Eight, responsible for three extended postseason runs in three seasons at Oregon for head coach Dana Altman.
Since Altman arrived in Eugene, he’s relied on a steady influx of transfers, some of them with only one year available to play for the Ducks. The 2013-14 roster continues the trend, with six transfers, three of them seniors.
All the new faces can be confusing business for fans of the program. But Altman’s track record would suggest that those faces are worth getting to know now.
“I think they’re excited about being here, excited about playing in the Pac-12,” said Altman, whose team began practicing last week. “They want to have good years, but for them to have good years, we’ve got to have a good year.
“There’s no individual entries into the NCAA Tournament. We either all go, or nobody goes. I think they get that, and they want to be part of a team.”
The headliner in this year’s class of transfers might be forward Mike Moser, a Portland native who played at UCLA and then UNLV. Guard Jason Calliste is another fifth-year transfer, and he may be joined in the backcourt by junior guard and Houston transfer Joseph Young, who has petitioned the NCAA to be eligible this season.
There are also three junior-college transfers on hand, including senior forward Richard Amardi, sophomore forward Elgin Cook and junior wing Jalil Abdul-Bassit.
The six transfers hope to follow in the footsteps of 2012 all-Pac-12 selection Devoe Joseph and 2013 senior Arsalan Kazemi, each of whom was a key cog in a lengthy postseason run in his only season at Oregon. Kazemi graduated last year along with fellow transfers Carlos Emory and Tony Woods, and Joseph was a face of the team in 2011-12 along with fifth-year transfer Olu Ashaolu.
“Any time you put 15 guys together, it’s different,” Altman said. “But I think this group is hungry, and they want to play together. So that makes our job a lot easier.”
Altman’s first success with transfers to Oregon was guard Jay-R Strowbridge. The fifth-year transfer from Nebraska via Jacksonville State led the Ducks in three-pointers made and attempted, for a team that won the College Basketball Invitational in Altman’s first year.
Tyrone Nared was also on that team, and was a senior in 2011-12 along with Joseph and Ashaolu. Nared started 24 times in two years and Joseph was the Pac-12’s leading scorer as a senior, while Ashaolu, like Strowbridge before him, played primarily off the bench.
Those are selfless decisions by players with short windows in which to succeed with the Ducks. But those decisions paid off – all eight transfers the last three years went on to play professionally at some level.
“I’d like to say we have some secret formula, but we’ve had really good guys to work with,” Altman said. “They came here to be part of a team. They didn’t come here for themselves. And that’s made it possible to have good years.”
The 2011-12 team, which also included new additions Woods and Emory, reached the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament. And then last year, Woods, Emory, Kazemi and transfer Waverly Austin helped Oregon reach the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
“You look at talent, and you look at his track record,” Altman said. “And then you have heart-to-heart conversations. We’re pretty honest in the recruiting process about how we’re going to try to blend this all together, and them being a part of it.”
That message isn’t always well-received, by some of the 12 players the Ducks can bring to campus on official visits each year.
“Those visits are precious, so you really want to bring in guys you think have a chance,” Altman said. “But during a 48-hour visit, getting to know guys, sometimes it’s not a good mix.”
Altman thinks he’s found the right mix with this year’s group, however. The Ducks figure to be smaller and quicker than last year’s team, perhaps not as strong on the glass in the absence of Kazemi, Emory and Woods, but better from behind the three-point arc, and deeper.
“I do like the fact we’ve got our point guards back,” Altman said.
The coach is not naïve, he said, to the notion the staff needs to improve its track record with high school recruits. The Ducks have had six signees from the last two classes leave the program already.
But, Altman said, “we’ve got to find what works for Oregon,” and right now that means quickly incorporating transfers.
“Why would guys look at us?” Altman asked rhetorically. “They look at guys that have come in, and they’ve all played a big role. They haven’t all started – Jay-R Strowbridge and Olu came off the bench but had great years, and they were really unselfish about it.
“And that’s why it works – really good guys. They just wanted to be part of something.”
Altman believes he’s got another group of such players on hand this year. It might make it hard for fans to memorize the roster the first few weeks, but come April those will probably be household names.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Altman said. “A lot of good parts are there, a lot of good guys. They seem like a good group. So I’m excited to get going.”