Kenny Wooten passed his No. 1 jersey on to Bol Bol.
That’s sort of a preseason tradition for the Oregon sophomore.
“I’ve changed my number almost every year since high school,” Wooten explained. “I’ve always wanted to be No. 14.”
Opponents began to avoid No. 1 in the paint when Wooten emerged as one of the top shot-blockers in the country last season, but teams were also able to avoid paying much attention to him on the other end of the court.
Wooten averaged 6.5 points per game while setting the school record with a .681 field-goal percentage. However, he took less than four shots per game while rarely shooting far from the rim.
“I have focused a lot on my mid-range jump shot and my corner ‘3’,” Wooten said. “I hope to be able to show that this year.”
Wooten attempted one three-pointer last year and may need to work up to that range before opponents fear No. 14 on the perimeter.
“He has been working at it,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “We encourage all of our players to continue working on their skills and Kenny has put some time in. We may let him display it from time to time, we will see how it goes in practice and scrimmage situations. His form looks pretty good. His offense has really improved. I don’t think he will be a dominant player, but I do think he is someone we can throw it to in the post and get good results.”
When Oregon attempted to do that last year, Altman noted a few opportunities lost when Wooten was not aggressive enough to seek the ball.
“I’ve been working on that a lot,” Wooten said. “I noticed it is not being selfish for me to call for the ball when I am open so I have been doing that.”
Oregon lost about 36 points per game with the departures of MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown and Elijah Brown from last year. Bol may be Oregon’s leading scorer as a freshman, but an injury to Louis King will leave a void on offense for the Ducks, at least at the start of the season.
Wooten started 10 games in the middle of last year, but began and ended the season in a reserve role. He and Paul White could join Bol in the starting lineup until King is ready, or one of those two could come off the bench.
Wooten is listed at 235 pounds, up from 220 a year ago. He acknowledged losing weight in the middle of last season while adjusting his diet to the college game.
“Kenny has really improved his body,” Altman said. “His confidence on the offensive end is going up. Last year, he did a great job defensively, but on offense he wasn’t much of a threat. I think he will be more of a threat for us.”
Wooten made the Pac-12’s all-defensive team after leading the conference and ranking 15th in the nation with 2.6 blocks per game. His 92 blocked shots ranks third in UO single-season history and is the second most by a freshman behind 94 for Jordan Bell, to whom Wooten has drawn physical comparisons.
Wooten has joked that he signed with Oregon to learn from Bell, who left Oregon early for the NBA just before Wooten arrived on campus. Bell averaged 5.1 points per game as a freshman before bumping up to 7.0 and 10.9 during his final two years.
“Jordan’s instincts were so good, his passing ability because of his experience playing a lot of ball,” Altman said. “Kenny hasn’t played that much. He started much later than Jordan so his instincts and his gamesmanship are not the same as Jordan. … Kenny has to work on some of those things, but from a natural standpoint, his shooting form is much better.”
Bell received help on defense during his sophomore season when Chris Boucher arrived, and those two are now at the top of Oregon’s all-time list for blocked shots. Wooten could get a similar boost with the addition of Bol.
“I usually had to block a majority of the shots, but now I know we have a guy 7-2 or 7-3 behind me that has made things easier on defense,” Wooten said. “I just have to wall up and he’ll come behind me and block the shot.”
Wooten also worked on his speed in the offseason with the hope of being able to guard all five positions.
“Our coaches have been emphasizing being versatile so I decided to take that and run with it,” Wooten said. “The game is changing, it is positionless. You have to be able to score inside and outside. It’s not mandatory to shoot the ‘three’, but it opens things up a lot.”
Wooten’s gains will be on public display when Oregon hosts Western Oregon in a Nov. 1 exhibition game followed by the season opener against Portland State on Nov. 6.
“Kenny’s shot is looking a lot better,” junior guard Payton Pritchard said. “I always thought his form was good, you could tell he had potential but he needs to keep making strides. Kenny’s growth this offseason has been crazy. He’s gotten bigger, I swear more athletic, and adding things to his game.”