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Oregon State's players visited the White House last Friday, posing for pictures in the Oval Office with President Obama, the brother-in-law of Beavers coach Craig Robinson, and checking out the presidential basketball court. ¶ "We took only one shot—a 10-footer by [freshman guard] Jared Cunningham," says senior guard Seth Tarver. "He swished it. We decided to stop right there."
So far this season, ending on a high note hasn't been a strength for Oregon State or for much of the Pac-10. A trendy pick to make the NCAA tournament in Robinson's second year, the Beavers are 2--3, having lost to Texas A&M--Corpus Christi by 24 points in their season opener, to Texas Tech two days later and then, unthinkably, to Sacramento State at home.
Similar carnage is occurring throughout the league, which may be at its lowest ebb in more than a decade. UCLA dropped games to Cal State--Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State; USC fell to Loyola Marymount and in one game suited up only six scholarship players; Stanford was upset by Oral Roberts and San Diego; and Oregon was also knocked off by Portland and lost to Montana by 13 points at home. Even Cal, a preseason Top 25 pick, faltered against Syracuse and Ohio State, leaving Washington as the league's lone ranked team and seemingly its only threat to play deep into March.
"You hear people talk about how the Pac-10 is down, but they don't mention factors like how many kids we've lost early to the NBA [17 in the past two seasons]," says Robinson. "It's too early to say these teams won't start playing well."
He's still upbeat about his team. "These guys have experienced major futility over the last few years, and suddenly there's the expectation that they'll be a lot better," says Robinson. "There's pressure on them, but no history of how to handle it. "He knows he must get his veterans, like Tarver, to be more assertive, while also giving his freshmen an opportunity to bloom. Robinson started first-year players Joe Burton and Cunningham last Saturday at George Washington, and the result was a 64--57 victory that the First Family watched from the stands.
Says Tarver, "Last year, we lost our first four games but got it together. I think we can get back in it this year."
The Beavers and the rest of the Pac-10 had best not delay. Otherwise, it'll be a safe bet that no team from the conference will be returning to the White House in the near future. That honor is usually reserved for national champions.
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