By Rob Moseley
Two years after the Oregon basketball team took flight with the help of two senior transfers from Toronto, the Ducks are looking for another dose of leadership and toughness imported from that Canadian city some 2,165 miles away.
Following in the footsteps of Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph in 2011-12, Toronto natives and senior transfers Jason Calliste and Richard Amardi have one season to leave their marks as Ducks this winter. Calliste is a fifth-year transfer from Detroit, and Amardi is in his first season of NCAA basketball after two stops at smaller colleges.
All four Toronto natives are products of the Grassroots Elite AAU program. Calliste played in tournaments with Ashaolu and Joseph before college, and Amardi played with both Joseph and Calliste.
“There was a time we were out there connecting well,” Amardi said of his chemistry with Calliste. “We’re trying to get that back – but you’ve got a bunch of competitive guys here, so it’s not as easy as walking into an AAU team and doing whatever you want.”
Like UO coach Dana Altman’s other new additions, including senior Mike Moser and hopefully guard Joseph Young – pending an NCAA ruling on his transfer waiver – Calliste and Amardi should play significant roles for the Ducks. Calliste is a sweet-shooting two guard looking to show off the diversity of his game, and Amardi is an athletic forward hoping to prove he’s got enough polish to play professionally.
Calliste was one of the last additions to this year’s roster, after starting 92 games the last three seasons at Detroit. The 6-foot-2, 171-pound guard was looking for a change after averaging 14.4 points per game with 73 three-pointers last season, and he called Joseph for input on his experience at Oregon.
“I got good feedback from Devoe, and then I asked Olu and got the same,” Calliste said. “That helped me with my decision at lot.”
Amardi, 6-8 and 224 pounds, began his career at Weatherford Junior College in Texas, redshirting in 2009-10 before playing the next season. Visa issues kept him home in Canada the next year; Amardi called that “a dark spot” on his path to Oregon, as he watched his parents and two younger sisters struggling to get by in a tough neighborhood.
Motivated to change those circumstances, Amardi spent last season at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, averaging 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. With the Ducks, he figures to provide depth in the frontcourt, with the ability to step back and score at times.
“He’s a crazy athlete,” UO point guard Johnathan Loyd said. “Any time somebody can get their head to the rim, you know that’s going to help us. He’s thinking a little too much right now, but once he calms down and lets everything just become a reaction, he’s going to take off.”
Like other transfers who have found success under Altman, Amardi is willing to play a specific role with the Ducks.
“I understand that that’s what I came here to do,” Amardi said. “I didn’t come here to score 30, 50 points, I just came here to win. If I can win with a big program, it’s going to help my resume out in the long run.”
Calliste, meanwhile, wants to show off an expanded game with the Ducks. He’s made 177 three-pointers in his career, at a 36.5-percent clip. While that’s a skill Oregon is looking to improve from last season, it’s not the only aspect of Calliste’s game.
“I’ve proven that I can shoot the ball,” he said. “Now I want to show everyone I’m a complete player. I’m not a little kid anymore, where I just catch and shoot. I want to make basketball plays for my team.”
Calliste is proving to be one of the more reserved personalities on his new team. That’s in contrast to an on-court demeanor Loyd described as tough and aggressive.
“He’s a tough defender,” Loyd said. “He really gets up in the passing lanes, and he’s real physical. Any time you do that, people start to back away.”
Calliste said that style stems from his upbringing in the Scarborough area of Toronto.
“Coming where I come from, when you play in the streets, play in the ‘hood, you don’t want nobody to score on you,” Calliste said. “That’s something I want to bring here. I don’t want people to score on me; it’s embarrassing.”
The diverse talents Calliste brings are just one facet of a new-look Oregon team that boasts seven new faces this season. Given his experience at this level, Calliste likes what he sees from the group.
“We’re balanced, really balanced,” Calliste said. “We’ve got good guards, we’ve got good wings, we’ve got good big men. If that can all come together, I don’t see why we can’t be good.”