Oregon's Dana Altman on returning to the Midwest
If Dillon Brooks had his way, Oregon men’s basketball coach Dana Altman would rake in every coaching title known to the NCAA.
The former Kansas State coach isn’t a Naismith Coach of the Year finalist, and Arizona’s Sean Miller won the Pac-12 coach of the year award.
But Altman, whose No. 3-seed Ducks face seventh-seeded Michigan (26-11) at 6:09 p.m. Thursday in the Sprint Center, has guided Oregon (31-5) to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and has won more games in his first seven seasons than any coach in school history.
That’s enough to at least put Altman’s name in the conversation.
“I always watch ESPN and stuff like that,” said Brooks, the Ducks’ junior forward guard. “They show the great coaching battles. Coach Altman’s never there.
“He hasn’t got a lot coach of the year (awards) or been to a Final Four, and those things equal to ‘great’ coaches, like Coach K (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewksi), (Syracuse’s Jim) Boeheim, (Kansas’ Bill) Self, all those guys. Coach has been through a lot and he’s not recognized for his teams and what he’s done.”
Altman is not John Calipari, who on Wednesday received a two-year extension from the University of Kentucky and is 248-52 with a national title (2012) in eight seasons heading into the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA on Friday.
He’s not Self, who in 14 years has won the 2008 national championship, been named the Associated Press coach of the year (2009, 2016) and Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year (2012), claimed seven Big 12 coaching titles and this season is a Naismith finalist for the seventh time in his career.
But Altman is one of six active NCAA coaches, including Self, with 20 consecutive winning seasons in Division I. The others: Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Boeheim.
He was the 2013 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year, a three-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year and a Naismith finalist in 2003, when his Creighton team that went 29-5 was upset by Central Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Yet Altman hardly gets any attention, Brooks said. And that’s part of the reason Brooks returned to Oregon after not getting an invite to the NBA Scouting Combine at the end of last season.
Brooks had trouble coming back from a foot injury at the beginning of the season but now averages 16.4 points per game.
“I knew we had the team to (be successful),” Brooks said. “We’re almost here right now, one game in front of us, to get back to where we were a whole year ago… Coach Altman’s meant so much to me. He gave me so much success and put me in big roles. I want to do something for him and for this team as well.”
Over the last seven years, Altman’s Oregon teams have gone 185-69, won a College Basketball Invitational title (over Creighton the year after he left), appeared in five straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Elite Eight for just the sixth time in program history. That Elite Eight team was 31-7, two wins better than the Oregon team that won the program’s first NCAA championship and the most victories the Ducks had ever seen.
Whether Altman enters coach of the year conversation this season hinges on what Oregon does against a Michigan team that shot 63 percent from the field in the second half against No. 2 seed Louisville in the second round of the tournament.
Oregon is the higher seed, but Michigan is regarded by many as a team of destiny this postseason. The Wolverines have won 12 of their last 14 games and have shot 50.2 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from the three-point line in their last five.
Oregon’s three-point defense (31.3 percent) is 22nd in the country, which will be handy against a Michigan team that’s 24th in the nation with 9.5 three-pointers per game. But the Ducks have been without injured shot-blocker Chris Boucher for three games and will need junior Jordan Bell to be more aggressive in protecting the rim.
In the seven years Altman has spent in Eugene, he has gradually pushed Oregon into the national spotlight.
And as long as he continues to recruit players similar to Brooks and sophomore Tyler Dorsey (14 points per game), both of whom could leave via the draft, there’s no reason the Ducks’ run of success should end after the this season.
“No coach has ever won without really good players, and I’ve been fortunate I’ve always had really good players, guys who were willing to sacrifice for the team,” Altman said. “This isn’t about the coaches. This is about the guys who get the opportunity. As coaches, we get a lot of opportunities. The players get one to four, depending on how good they are.”