Louis King’s minutes have increased in almost every game since his delayed debut for Oregon.
The freshman’s scoring average is on a similar trajectory.
King scored 17 points in Oregon’s 77-72 loss to Oregon State last Saturday and followed with 22 points in Thursday’s 87-84 overtime loss to UCLA. After averaging 6.8 points in six nonconference games, King is at 19.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in Pac-12 play.
King shot below 40 percent from the field in six straight games before going 9-for-18 against UCLA, including 4-of-9 on three-pointers.
“I think he’s playing real good,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “He did a lot of good things. Some careless turnovers early but he played awful well.”
The 6-foot-9 King is starting to show the skills of a five-star recruit who was ranked among the top 20 prospects in the country at Hudson Catholic High School in Jersey City, N.J. He was picked to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit, but sat them all out due to a knee injury suffered in January.
His rehabilitation continued into college as he missed Oregon’s first seven games before scoring 11 points in his debut against Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 8.
“It was hard for me after surgery to come back and watch everyone else compete and just sit on the sideline,” King said. “I had to get into the gym and make sure that when I came back, I was ready.”
King was out of action for almost a year before suiting up for the Ducks (10-5, 0-2 Pac-12), who host USC (9-7, 2-1) at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Altman initially limited King to less than 20 minutes of playing time per game before bumping up his minutes in five straight contests. King came off the bench in his first three appearances before moving into the starting lineup during the past five.
King has averaged 33.7 minutes in Oregon’s last three games.
“I’m back to where I am comfortable going up and down,” King said. “I am learning to transition into the offense and run the offense, coming off screens and getting shots up. It took me a long time to get back. … I haven’t played with these guys as much so as the season continues, we will be more explosive.”
With fellow freshman Bol Bol out for the season with a broken foot, King leads the Ducks with 5.4 rebounds per game.
“I didn’t expect to come in and do that, leading the team in rebounding,” King said.
Without Bol and injured forward Kenny Wooten, Oregon has been outrebounded by a total of 23rebounds in its two conference losses. King’s 10 rebounds in each of those games gives him 20 of UO’s 66 during that span.
King has bumped his scoring average up to 10 points per game while shooting 36.6 percent from the field, including 34.3 on three-pointers.
“It is good to see Lou playing well,” Oregon sophomore guard Victor Bailey said. “After being out so long, I am happy for him. He’s working hard so it is good to see he’s out there.”
The addition of King and Bol in Oregon’s highest-ranked recruiting class put the Ducks into the preseason Top 25 and made them the favorite in the conference, but the two five-star recruits played just two games together. UO has struggled with its top two freshmen battling injuries and will likely need to win the Pac-12 Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament in what could be King’s only season if he joins Bol by declaring for the NBA draft.
King figured to start at the three position with Bol and Wooten in the middle, but has had to play inside more than expected for Oregon’s depleted front court. He also was the player Oregon called upon to take a potential game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of the last two losses, although he missed both attempts.
“I will take on any role that coach tells me,” King said. “Be a post, be a guard, it doesn’t matter.”