Coaches are always put in difficult positions when their players are shone in a negative light. On one hand, their paychecks and reputation depend on wins against losses. On the other, they’re seen as dignitaries who are responsible for upholding their players’ reputations as role models. And on a third, perhaps bionic, hand, coaches are expected to defend their players and any actions they may carry out while simultaneously enacting a proper punishment.
When men’s basketball sophomore guard Damyean Dotson was cited for using fake I.D. early in the morning of Feb. 22, he put himself and head coach Dana Altman in precarious positions.
Dotson made a bad decision at one of the worst possible times. On the heels of back-to-back wins as his team was beginning the final two weeks of the regular season, two weeks that will play a huge role in determining Oregon’s worthiness of an NCAA tournament at-large bid. What’s worse, Dotson and the Ducks had a date with Washington State in about 40 hours.
Altman, meanwhile, had to take the information and formulate the perfect solution to a problem that the media world would be buzzing about in a few short hours.
Altman had many things to consider regarding Dotson’s status. First was how any form of punishment would affect the upcoming game. Luckily for Altman, Dotson and the Ducks, Washington State is the worst team in the Pac-12 and Oregon destroyed them in the teams’ first meeting. Second, while Dotson didn’t do anything heinous or put anybody in danger, he broke the law, meaning Altman had to do something in the way of clarifying right from wrong. Third, Altman had to stand by Dotson’s side and reassure the masses that the 19 year old made a common mistake.
“I’ve worked with young men for a long time and I know at times they make mistakes,” Altman told reporters on Feb. 25.
Ultimately, Altman sat Dotson for the game against Washington State and Oregon won 67-53.
Altman handled the situation perfectly. He won the game, disciplined Dotson and publicly focused on his otherwise good character.
“Every individual is different. Every individual has a history,” Altman said. “I give them credit for things they do well and when they make a mistake then we take that into account too. (Dotson) has a lot of credit built up because he’s done a lot of good things the last two years and I really appreciate everything he’s given to the program.”
Suspending Dotson for the Washington State game wasn’t detrimental. Had Dotson’s citation come at another point in the season, say, two nights before the regular season finale against Arizona, would Dotson have sat the entire game?
We’ll never know. But my gut tells me Altman would have made the same decision.
Oregon was trailing Washington State 31-24 at halftime and arguably playing their worst basketball of the season. If there was ever a time to end Dotson’s punishment, it was then.
But Altman didn’t falter and kept Dotson on the bench.
Thursday, Dotson was re-inserted into the starting lineup against UCLA and helped Oregon win a double overtime thriller.
Follow Madison Guernsey on Twitter @guernseymd