by Rob Moseley
Even now, five years later, folks remember Mike Moser's exploits in Eugene.
Before he signed with UCLA, before he transferred to UNLV and then Oregon, Moser was a double-double machine for Grant High in Portland. In 2008, Moser led the Generals all the way to a state title, in the Ducks' home gym, McArthur Court.
"I still get stopped around Eugene with, 'Oh, man, I remember when you guys were here and won the state championship,'" Moser recalled recently.
Fast forward five years, and Moser is back in Eugene. He's looking for a different kind of title — the Pac-12 variety, if not more — in a different Ducks gym, Matthew Knight Arena.
In less than three weeks, UO fans can come out and watch the new-look Oregon men's basketball team under fourth-year coach Dana Altman, in an Oct. 27 exhibition against Northwest Christian. Seven new additions are on hand to help the Ducks build off last season's Sweet Sixteen run, and none figures to play a more prominent role than Moser.
"He's pretty focused," Altman said of the fifth-year transfer, while sitting in the arena's Founders Club after practice last week. "He wants to be a basketball player. He's not wasting any time; he's either in class or he's here. He's at an age where he understands."
Like Arsalan Kazemi, Olu Ashaolu and Jay-R Strowbridge before him, Moser brings that particular sense of urgency that only a senior transfer can understand. The potential starting power forward for the Ducks was among the first of this year's newcomers to arrive in Eugene, bonding with new teammates and learning each other's games on the court.
"It's just going to be more intense," Moser said of his final season of eligibility. "You're not trying to cut corners, because we've seen it enough to know it doesn't work that way."
A 2009 graduate of Grant High, Moser was Oregon's Mr. Basketball as a high school senior. He made an official visit to Eugene as a recruit, but didn't see himself as a good fit under the Ducks' previous coaching staff.
After 15 brief appearances for UCLA as a true freshman, Moser transferred to UNLV. He sat out a year under NCAA transfer rules, then averaged a double-double for the Rebels in 2011-12, earning first-team all-conference and honorable mention all-America honors.
Moser averaged 10.5 rebounds that season, the sort of production Altman would like to see him provide with the Ducks.
"He wants me to get back to being that double-double guy," Moser said. "That guy that was leading the nation in rebounding, things like that."
Moser is ready and willing to accept that role, despite knowing he may be a better fit on the perimeter as a professional.
"I've seen a lot of guys play the 'four' in college and transition just fine to the 'three' in the NBA," Moser said. "Being kind of an older vet now, I feel the most important thing is to be on the floor, above all else. If you're on the floor, you're doing something right."
Moser may be slotted for Kazemi's position, but they're different players. Kazemi was a no-nonsense rebounder and defender. Moser provides a scoring dimension, if not quite as rugged a presence down low.
"As a power forward, he's going to lead the break," senior guard Johnathan Loyd predicted. "We're going to have a lot more transition buckets."
Among the experiences that helped Moser mature the last four years was a frustrating elbow injury last season. He rolled the dice and returned to school after that big sophomore season, rather than turn pro, but was injured last December.
Moser still played in 28 games for the Rebels, starting 17. But after averaging 14 points and 10.5 rebounds as a sophomore, his numbers fell to 7.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a junior. The body with which Moser had become one of the nation's best players had betrayed him.
"Anybody in their everyday life, it's like if you're always on your phone but your phone isn't working, or your computer's not working," Moser offered as an analogy. "It just messes up everything."
Coming off last season, Moser was looking to get closer to home for his final year of eligibility. Now, he's just 100 miles away from his mom, sister and three brothers, who plan to attend Moser's games in Eugene.
What separated Oregon from the other Northwest schools he looked at, Moser said, was Altman's track record with fifth-year transfers such as Ashaolu and Kazemi. They were productive players in their only seasons as Ducks, for team's that made long postseason runs despite having several new faces.
"That really stood out," Moser said. "There have been guys similar to me, and he plugged them right in. They were successful, so why can't I be the same?"
Moser believes he can, and that the latest new-look team of Ducks can put together another of those extended postseason runs.
"There's no doubt this is going to be a good team," Moser said. "Talent-wise we have the pieces, and I think coach Altman has shown over the years he's been here that he can put those pieces together and make them work.
"I don't think this team's any different than the team last year, other than names and faces. Same athleticism, same talent — maybe a little better. As long as we put it together, we'll be fine."