Oregon lost to Louisville in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Championship Tournament Friday night. On Saturday morning, the next season began for everyone but the seniors.
“It starts right now — we got to keep this feeling in the back of our heads and push forward from here,” freshman Ben Carter added.
While the loss this deep in the tournament was a heartbreaker, the end result of an above-expectations year serves as encouragement for the upcoming season.
The Ducks will lose senior leader and top scorer E.J. Singler, along with three other seniors: Tony Woods, Carlos Emory and Arsalan Kazemi. All four of the seniors were pivotal for Oregon this season, as Woods developed into a well-rounded big man and Emory was a scoring spark off the bench and an exciting playmaker. In just one year, too, Kazemi helped skyrocket Oregon’s rebounding prowess and was a great defender. Singler was the program’s unquestioned captain, being the only player on the team who had spent all four years in Eugene. The loss of these major contributors is a big blow to the team, but such is the nature of college basketball eligibility.
While some stars fade, new ones have already risen for the Ducks — none more evident in the young, core nucleus of Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Ben Carter.
Artis and Dotson started every game they were available for, and the pair of guards turned heads across the country as well as in the locker room.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Dot and D.A.,” Carter said of his friends, “what they showed through out the year shows great confidence, it shows great skill level.”
“Very talented young men,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of Dotson and Artis. “They’re two guys we can build around. Their experience will help them.”
Artis played in 28 games for Oregon, averaging 8.5 points per game for the year along with an average 3.2 assists. He was integral to early season success. His long absence due to injury showed his value — the Ducks floundered without him. He struggled in his return, but in the game against Louisville, he seemed back to his aggressive, attack-the-hoop style, scoring 12 points.
Dotson started all 37 games this year and was a steady scorer the entire way. In the Pac-12 Tournament as well as March Madness, he turned it up a notch, scoring above his season average of 11.4 points in six consecutive games.
If Artis and Dotson are Exhibit A of things to look forward to next season, Ben Carter is B. A 6-foot-8 forward, Carter played in many games, logging 10 minutes on average. He improved greatly as the season wore on, looking more and more comfortable later in the season. He never scored much but proved capable of hitting jump shots when given the opportunity. Look for him to potentially break into the starting lineup next October.
Guards Willie Moore and Fred Richardson III didn’t play much as freshmen this year but will likely play meaningful minutes as reserves for Artis and Dotson next season. Austin Kuemper is the last freshman who will return, having played sparingly in garbage minutes this year. He is a good shooter (8-for-14 this season) with a lengthy 6-foot-9 frame.
“All the freshman, we are going to have a lot of experience because we actually got a chance to play this year,” Dotson said. “Next year, we going to be way more aggressive, and we just going to know what to do when this time comes.”
Artis, Dotson and Carter will likely fill three starting spots next season, leaving center and small forward open. When Tony Woods came to Oregon as a junior transfer, he needed time to develop. By the time his two-year stint ended on Friday, he had upped his scoring average from 6.8 to 8.9 and became a more fluid player. The Ducks will hope for the same thing from similar-sized Waverly Austin. He played 11 minutes on average, backing up Woods as a junior transfer. Just like him, Austin stands 6-foot-11 and seemed clunky at points. If he is more aggressive and physical down low next year, he could produce at a higher level like Woods. Austin will likely hold down the starting center spot.
The Ducks have a junior college commit in Elgin Cook who could challenge for the small forward spot. Tyree and Tyrell Robinson are primarily football-focused but have great talent and will likely see some time on the hardwood.
The x-factor for Oregon next year could be whether the Ducks land one of the nation’s top-five prospects: Aaron Gordon. At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, Gordon is a blend of size and athleticism and has Oregon on his short list.
With so much returning and potentially incoming talent, Carter summarized next season’s prospects best: “Sky is the limit for this team, with our younger guys.”