The Ducks return intact from 2004-05, not counting center Ian Crosswhite, who would have been a senior this season but was dismissed from the team in the middle of last year. Filling that scholarship is Churchill Odia, a transfer from Xavier who will sit out this season as a redshirt.
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Cautious optimism is the prevailing feeling as the Oregon basketball team prepares for the 2005-06 season. The Ducks have something to prove after struggling through a 14-13 season and failing to qualify for the Pac-10 Conference tournament.
But with his entire roster back for another season, Oregon coach Ernie Kent thinks the pieces are in place for the Ducks to jump back into the Pac-10's first division.
"We're still the biggest team in the conference, we'd like to think we're still the fastest team in the conference, and I think we're going to be one of, if not the deepest team in the conference," Kent says. "The key for us will be if we grow and learn - understanding what it takes to win at this level -- from last year to this year."
The focus in the offseason was on improving the team's conditioning and free throw shooting, and cutting down on turnovers. The Ducks were last in the conference in turnover margin and seventh in free throw shooting last season, though Kent thinks experience will be the biggest key to improving those areas.
Oregon's star power is on the perimeter. Up front, the Ducks have a mix of bruising forwards and lanky centers who should be able to hold their own in a conference that lacks many imposing post players.
"As a group, they're good enough to do what we need them to do in there," Kent says.
The strength of the group is a pair of sophomores with the potential to flourish this season. Forward Maarty Leunen plays with the savvy of a seasoned veteran, coming up with key rebounds and displaying a deft passing touch for a big man.
Energetic center Ray Schafer improved throughout last season, developing into a creative scorer, if not the most powerful rebounder. Schafer, in particular, needs to improve his free throw shooting in order to be trusted with the ball in the post.
Mitch Platt provides some much-needed muscle in the middle, though he is coming off of foot surgery. Matt Short gives the team a 7-footer off the bench, while athletic forward Adam Zahn is still looking to cement his role with the team.
The Ducks spent time in the offseason studying tape of Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, hoping point guard Aaron Brooks would adopt some of Nash's decision-making ability.
Kent and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni both have experience coaching overseas and appreciate the European style of play that features crisp passing, creativity on offense, spreading the floor -- and requires a point guard who can shoot, penetrate the defense and kick the ball out to open teammates.
Brooks focused on his decision-making in film study and pickup games during the offseason. He hopes to improve his assist total while remaining a scoring threat, as a junior.
"I'm not saying become totally a pass-first point guard," he says, "but at least make the right decision at the right time."
Brooks will have plenty of valuable options on the wing, beginning with sophomores Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor.
Hairston is the unquestioned leader of the team despite being just a sophomore, and this season he will be expected to develop into one of the Pac-10's best players.
Taylor is one of the league's best 3-point shooters and, along with Hairston, will be expected to shoulder the scoring load.
Brandon Lincoln can back up both guard positions, while Chamberlain Oguchi is explosive on offense though inconsistent on defense. Jordan Kent, the coach's son, provides hustle and athleticism but lacks a scoring touch.
It's safe to say Kent misjudged last year's team. He acknowledged their youth but thought they could still contend for a Pac-10 title. In the end, leadership never developed, and fatigue caught up with all the freshman contributors.
While Kent is hoping this year's group of Ducks finally develops into a conference title contender this season, he isn't about to get caught off-guard again.
"In terms of 100 percent confidence, you still won't know until they get into a competitive environment," says Kent. "Then it will show. On paper? Yes. The biggest growth is between your freshman and sophomore season. So you would think yes, but as a coach I want to see it."