Chris Duarte told Dana Altman that he wouldn’t need much time to transition from junior college men's basketball to Oregon.
“I told coach I would be ready for this opportunity and I feel like I am,” the 6-foot-6 junior guard said.
Duarte has started each of his first five games for No. 11 Oregon (5-0), which opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against 13th-ranked Seton Hall (4-1) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Nassau, Bahamas. He ranks fourth on the team with 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help us win,” Duarte said. “I’m always hustling, trying to get seven or eight rebounds.”
Duarte was born in Montreal and grew up in the Dominican Republic — about a one-hour flight from the Bahamas — before arriving in the United States to play at Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, N.Y.
Duarte spent the past two seasons at Northwest Florida State and was named national junior-college player of the year last season when he averaged 19.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore. That’s the same school where Altman found Elgin Cook.
“I felt like Oregon was the best spot for me because coach Altman has a great history with Juco players,” Duarte said.
Duarte scored 16 points in his Oregon debut during a 71-57 win over Fresno State. He scored seven points in 12 minutes during the first half of a 82-74 win over Memphis on Nov. 12 before a knee injury knocked him out of the game.
Duarte had to be helped off the court before starting the second half, but he was still sore and returned to the bench for the rest of the game with a bruised knee.
“I was a little bit scared and then I kind of got mad and frustrated because I wanted to go back and play,” Duarte said. “I’m glad everything is fine.”
Duarte was back on the court five days later to get seven points and seven rebounds when Oregon defeated UT Arlington 67-47. Oregon trailed by six against Houston on Friday before Duarte scored all eight of his points, including two 3-pointers, in a three-minute span late in the first half to push the Ducks ahead 32-27 at halftime.
“We needed plays like that,” UO sophomore center Francis Okoro said. “He understood that he was hot and kept shooting. We needed that stretch to keep us going.”
Duarte’s 13 assists and five turnovers marks the best ratio on the team and he is tied for the team lead with three blocked shots. He’s shooting 43.6% from the field, including 6-for-17 on 3-pointers.
“Chris is super versatile,” Oregon senior guard Anthony Mathis said. “He makes extra plays and is a big guard who can grab rebounds. He can really do it all.”
Duarte has made the jump to Division I look as smooth as he expected.
“It is a dream come true,” he said. “It is a big difference too, a lot of challenges, but I really like it. I feel like it is good for me and my future.”
Ducks hold at No. 11 with few poll changes
There was little change in the Top 25 as Oregon remained No. 11 in the AP men’s basketball poll on Monday morning.
Oregon could face three ranked opponents at the Battle 4 Atlantis beginning with Seton Hall. Oregon may see No. 8 Gonzaga on the second day of the tournament while sixth-ranked North Carolina is on the other half of the bracket.
The only change among the top 16 teams from the previous week’s poll was Maryland and North Carolina flipping the fifth and sixth spots.
Oregon remains the highest-ranked Pac-12 team followed by Arizona at No. 14, Colorado at No. 21 and Washington at No. 23.