Dana Altman had a message for his players before exiting a locker room for the final time of the season.
“I told them that I want them all to come back,” the Oregon coach said following Thursday’s 53-49 loss to Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks have already had one expected defection when 7-foot-2 freshman Bol Bol officially entered the NBA Draft. That leaves Oregon with seven players who could return next season along with three recruits in the 2019 class, but there are likely to be more additions and subtractions.
“I want them to do what is best for them,” Altman added. “This isn’t about Oregon, it is about each individual player and I want them to do what is best for them and I hope they feel Oregon is the best for them. They chose Oregon because they felt it was the best for them and I sure hope everyone still feels that way.”
Five-star freshman Louis King appears to have improved his draft stock during the postseason after averaging 16.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in seven games while shooting 19-for-38 on 3-pointers. ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz said last week that King, who is listed as the No. 36 prospect in ESPN’s rankings, is “knocking on the door of the first round.”
King said prior to the NCAA Tournament that he would “wait until the end of the season” to determine if he would enter the draft. The 6-foot-9 forward seems likely to declare for the draft and seek a spot in the NBA Combine while retaining the option to return for his sophomore season.
Underclassmen have until April 22 to declare for the draft and can withdraw their name until May 29.
Oregon junior Payton Pritchard said declaring for the draft “is definitely an option” after a strong postseason run. The point guard averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 assists in his final six games.
Sophomore Kenny Wooten is another player who could enter the draft to determine his pro potential. The 6-9 forward was listed on ESPN’s Top 100 prospects in the middle of the season, but has dropped off that list.
“That is their decision, they’ve got a lot of people they talk to,” Altman said of the early-entry process for the draft. “I want them to do what they feel is best for them and then they let us know and we go to work and figure out how to put a team together for next year.”
Francis Okoro, Victor Bailey, Will Richardson, and Miles Norris are the other Ducks slated to return next season, although Oregon has often had a player or two transfer after each season.
“We never twist anybody’s arm,” Altman said. “We tell them how badly we want them to stay and hopefully they will.”
Okoro, who finished the season strong after joining the starting lineup for the final 11 games, said he expected Oregon’s 10-game winning streak that took them to the regional semifinal to carry confidence into next season.
“We have to get ready for next year,” he said. “I want to be back here and I know other guys want to be back. We learned a lot this season. We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but now we are more mature and know what to do. We have to keep our heads up and get ready for next season.”
Oregon has signed junior-college transfer Chris Duarte along with freshmen forwards Chandler Lawson and C.J. Walker in next year’s recruiting class. The Ducks remain in the mix for a few other top prospects when the spring signing period begins on April 17.
Five-star point guard Cole Anthony of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia included Oregon among his final four schools this week along with North Carolina, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Four-star guard Cassius Stanley of Los Angeles is also considering Oregon along with Kansas, UCLA, and USC.
“We try to find guys that fit and want to work with us,” Altman said. “We have a great staff that works to find guys who want to be here and play for us. Then we go work with them.”
Altman recently agreed to a contract extension through 2026 and said he hopes to keep his staff in place. Assistants Kevin McKenna and Tony Stubblefield have been with Altman since he arrived at Oregon in 2010 while Mike Mennenga has been on staff for five seasons.
“I hope they all stay,” Altman said. “I’ve been fortunate. … It is a great staff and I’m sure they will have opportunities. Just because I’m staying doesn’t mean they are staying, but I want them to do what is best for them and hopefully they think that is staying at Oregon.”