SAN JOSE, Calif. — Payton Pritchard will wake up around 9 a.m. Sunday, an hour before Oregon’s team breakfast, and head straight to the weight room at the Ducks’ hotel.
After a lifting session with strength coach Evan VanBecelaere, Pritchard will have a breakfast of potatoes, bacon, sausage and almond milk, avoiding dairy, eggs and gluten. Then, between the Ducks’ pregame shootaround and tipoff of their game against UC Irvine in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Pritchard will meet up with teammates to fulfill an important part of his pregame routine.
A game of “Settlers of Catan.”
“The last two, three weeks we’ve probably played 30 games,” said walk-on guard Luke Osborn, who introduced Pritchard and a few other teammates to the board game.
In an age of Fortnite and other screen-based addictions, the Ducks have gone decidedly old-school. Osborn packs the board and its numerous tiny pieces in his bag for every road trip, ensuring Pritchard can get his pregame fix.
For a while, Osborn said, there was a superstition that Pritchard needed to win a game of “Settlers” the night before every basketball game or else the Ducks would lose. The team eventually broke the hex, but Pritchard still needs to play a game or two before he’s ready to take the court.
If you haven’t figured it out, Pritchard is a creature of habit. He revamped his pregame routine several weeks ago, and coincidence or not, he’s been playing the best basketball of his career ever since.
Pritchard is averaging 16.1 points, 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals while shooting 50 percent from the field during Oregon’s nine-game winning streak. It’s hard to attribute all of that to his pregame preparation, but Pritchard is superstitious enough not to change a thing as long as it’s working.
“Before, I was kind of like, ‘It’s whatever. I’m going to go out there and do this or do that,’” Pritchard said. “It didn’t allow me to be prepared for the game. My mind was kind of lost when the game starts.
“Now I’m ready for tip. I’m ready to compete.”
Pritchard decided to shake things up after the Ducks came home from a sweep at the hands of USC and UCLA that dropped them to 6-8 in the Pac-12.
The Ducks were underachieving as a team, and Pritchard wasn’t living up to the standard he’d set for himself. Entering the home stretch of his junior season, he was shooting 39 percent and had regressed in nearly every statistical category from his numbers as a sophomore.
“I was very low,” Pritchard said. “I was upset with myself. I just kept working and trying to get out of that.”
Pritchard started by consulting a team nutritionist who ran some tests to determine how his body reacted to certain foods. Based on the results, he decided to stop eating gluten and dairy and replace eggs and chicken with more red meat.
“No dairy was difficult at first, and gluten was difficult,” Pritchard said. “Those foods ended up being not great for me.
“My energy is a little bit better. I feel better before games and all that.”
Pritchard also tried to improve his sleep habits, turning off his phone and TV by 11 p.m. so he could get a full eight or nine hours of sleep each night. He started lifting weights six days a week, including on game days, and noticed himself feeling stronger.
Then there’s his pregame shooting routine, which Pritchard has honed to a science.
Pritchard will start by shooting 10 layups with each hand. Then he’ll take 20 catch-and-shoot midrange jumpers and 20 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Next he’ll dribble full-speed from midcourt and take 10 mid-range pull-ups and 10 pull-up 3-pointers.
After the Ducks return from the locker room, he’ll finish his routine by making 10 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
“That’s been my pregame routine since the UCLA game,” he said.
Pritchard admits the routine is as much psychology as it is physiology, and believing it works is part of the secret. Coach Dana Altman doesn’t get involved in the details, but he recognizes the results in the way Pritchard has performed.
“I just leave him alone,” Altman said. “I don’t want him to over-think it.
“He’s playing with tremendous confidence. Some nights those shots might not fall, but what he’s given us defensively and leadership-wise carries over.”
Along with the rest of his routine, Pritchard wouldn’t feel ready to play without a game of “Settlers of Catan.” He declares himself the team champion, though Osborn disputes that claim.
“That’s not true,” Osborn said. “Right at the start he rattled off a bunch of wins. I got sick and tired of him telling me I was the worst, so I said, ‘OK, let’s make a leaderboard.’
“Right now I’m in the lead, but he’s catching up.”
Given the hot streak Pritchard has been on, “Settlers of Catan” isn’t going anywhere. He’s hoping to carry this momentum not just to the Sweet 16, but all the way into his senior season.
“I always knew I could do this,” he said. “I feel like my teammates believe in me too.
“It just feels good to bring it out now. Hopefully this is the consistent Payton and I can take it to new levels.”
By now, it’s almost becoming routine.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.