Kelly Graves attended Game 4 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals on Monday at Moda Center.
The Oregon women’s basketball coach wasn’t the one representing the program on national pregame shows or mingling with the star-studded Warriors behind the curtain after Golden State completed its sweep of Portland.
That would be Sabrina Ionescu.
Since the Wooden Award winner and NCAA triple-double record smasher opted to return for her senior season, the Ducks have remained in the spotlight.
Ionescu led a talented Oregon team to the program’s first Final Four appearance last month and then decided to put the WNBA on hold for another year.
“Unless there’s another Zion (Williamson) coming down the pike on the men’s side, she might be the biggest star in college basketball, men or women, this coming season,” Graves said.
Oregon will be favored to win its third consecutive Pac-12 championship and will likely enter the 2019-20 campaign ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll.
Civil War rival Oregon State and Stanford project as top-10 teams next season, and UCLA is also expected to contend in conference play.
Graves will challenge his veteran group during the nonconference schedule with home games against Kansas State and South Dakota State, a neutral-court game against Louisville in the U.S. Virgin Islands and road games at Syracuse and UConn.
The Ducks, who won the NCAA Tournament’s Portland Regional as a No. 2 seed with a thrilling win over top-seeded Mississippi State, plan on making another Final Four run without having to leave the state. Moda Center will host a regional semifinal and final again in 2020.
“We’re going to have the kind of schedule that would warrant, if we play well, a No. 1 seed,” Graves said. “I think sometimes that’s one of the knocks on teams that might be in that one-two bubble. Our strength of schedule is going to be well within that range.”
Per NCAA rules, Graves is not allowed to publicly comment on unsigned players, but Oregon’s 2020 recruiting class is expected to rival the 2016 class headlined by Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard.
The Ducks already have verbal commitments from five players ranked among the top 40 prospects in the class by ESPN — guard Sydney Parrish (No. 11), forward Kylee Watson (No. 18), forward Angela Dugalic (No. 22), guard Maddie Scherr (No. 23) and guard Te-Hina Paopao
“It’s gone well. We’ve amped it up even more,” Graves said of his staff’s efforts to make sure the roster is replenished for the post-Ionescu era. “Recruiting is something, quite frankly, I think we’re really good at. We work hard at it, I think we have a lot to sell here at the University of Oregon and with our program.”