The Emerald Media Group Presents
Men & Womenâ€™s Basketball Preview | 2016-2017
DYLAN ENNIS RETURNS TO THE COURT FOR HIS SIXTH SEASON IN THE NCAA WITH ONE GOAL: TO TAKE THE DUCKS TO THE CHAMPIONSHIPS.
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Contents Every Player Gets a Chance
All 14 women star for the Ducks
Oregon’s Most Versatile Player
Men and Women Recruits
Tall in height and high in talent
Dylan Ennis’ Last Run
Preview of new 2016-17 season Ducks
1939 “Tall Firs”
Jordan Bell brings more than just a jumpshot
His sixth collegiate season
A Perfect Pair in the Making
Cal AAU team infusing Pac-12
Sabrina Ionescu and Maite Cazorola
Basketball stars from California
Photos by Adam Ederhart, Aaron Nelson, Amanda Shigeoka, Kaylee Domzalski
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Oregon guard Lexi Bando. (Kaylee Domzalski)
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Oregon guard Morgan Yaeger. (Kaylee Domzalski)
When Oregon was set to play No. 24-ranked Michigan State, it was expected that the Graves would show nine or 10 players, but the Ducks dominated the game to the point that all 14 players once again played. Following the 33-point win, the Ducks traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii to face No. 7 Mississippi State, which like the Michigan State game, was expected to be the first time Graves played fewer than 13 players.
In every game for Oregon women’s basketball, the entire eligible team has played.
Instead, 14 players made cameos in Oregon’s first loss of the season against the Ducks’ SEC opponents.
At the start of the season, that number was 13, but with freshman Sierra Campisano returning from injury in the Ducks’ win over CSU Bakersfield, it became 14 total players. It is highly unusual to see a team use its entire eligible squad, but Oregon might actually need to in order to establish chemistry with a freshmen class of seven
“Everyone’s contributing something different,” Lexi Bando said after the win over Lamar.“It’s really fun, this team is amazing and so much fun to play with.”
“It kind of makes it disjointed a little bit,” Graves said. “We’re going to have to tighten it up. Oregon was favorite to win in its first few games of nonconference play but that would soon change. Graves was happy to play every player to keep the team fresh for the big games against then-ranked No.24 Michigan State and 7th-ranked Mississippi State. “We’re trying to get as many kids as many minutes as possible,” Graves said following the win against UTSA.
The success and competitiveness of Oregon while playing 14 players is rare.The Ducks’ depth is showing and it is not a bad thing. “It’s good because you know you can give it 110 percent and you’re gonna be tired in five minutes but you’re gonna have someone come in for you,” Megan Trinder said after the Lamar win. Oregon might be able to keep its vast lineup intact, but it is only a matter of time until the Ducks will have to start playing fewer people. For now, it is working well, and as Graves has suggested, it might not change until the conclusion of nonconference play. EMG Magazine
With the addition of a jumpshot, Jordan Bell has become one of Oregon’s more versatile players BY JARRID DENNEY With nine minutes remaining in Oregon’s road matchup with Baylor on Nov. 15, Jordan Bell caught an entry pass at the top of the key, turned to face the basket and cooly drained a contested 18-foot jumper.
The No. 5 Oregon Ducks play the Army Black Knights at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Adam Eberhardt)
Earlier in the half, Bell caught a pass on a fastbreak after an Oregon steal, took two dribbles and delivered a Euro step that caused a backpedaling Baylor defender to fall to the ground as Bell finished an easy layup. These plays marked the evolution of
Jordan Bell. Bell, a 6-foot-9 forward who runs like a guard and has one of the quickest second jumps in college basketball, became a breakout contributor for the Ducks during last year’s NCAA Tournament. His offensive game consisted almost entirely of monstrous twohanded dunks and putbacks off missed shots. Bell is one of the top shot-blockers in the country — he broke Oregon’s school block record in just his 50th
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Oregon Ducks forward Jordan Bell (1) throws down an alley-oop. (Adam Eberhart)
career game — and paired with his defensive gifts, his ability to clean up misses on the offensive end was enough to make him an impact player last year. Over the summer, he added a jump shot to his game that could make him one of the best two-way threats in the Pac-12. “The jumpers developed a lot — just little tweaks and fixes, like keeping my elbow in, keeping the ball up toward my face,” Bell said. “Just little stuff like that. Coach Mike Mennenga helped me out a lot in the summer. Everyday in the morning, just working out.” Bell was among the best shooters in the gym by the time August rolled around. He beat almost everybody on Oregon’s roster at one point or another, including sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, who shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
Bell’s offensive expansion couldn’t have come at a better time for the Ducks. As seen in the game against Baylor, Oregon doesn’t have a solid answer for matchup zone defenses at this point in the year. Bell might not be the full answer, but he is part of the solution. “I’ve talked to him a little bit about becoming a better perimeter defender,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said.“We’re gonna need that out of him. I think offensively he can do some things from there. But defensively, we’re gonna need him to get better and guard smaller guys.” When they struggled to shoot against Baylor, the Ducks would run their offense through Bell at times — something that seemed unimaginable last year. An entry pass
at the top of the key gave Bell the option to shoot or put the ball on the floor and beat an opposing big man one-on-one. He did both well at times against the Bears. When paired with Boucher, which he will be often this year, Bell’s offensive versatility means the Ducks will boast two sharpshooting power forwards who can play interchangeably on the block, or along the baseline on the weak side of the defense. “With both of them, I can just run in the lane and throw it behind my head and one of them will catch it and dunk it,” Oregon guard Dylan Ennis said. Whatever role the Ducks unleash Bell in this year, expect to see his offensive game blossom as the season goes on and the Ducks have more options available. EMG Magazine
By Gus Morris
Oregon welcomed five new players to its roster for the 2016-17 season. Before the additions of transfers Paul White and Kavel Bigby-Williams, Oregon boasted the 30th ranked recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN. Recruiting sites Scout and 247sports.com rated head coach Dana Altman’s haul as the 10th- and 12th-best freshman class, respectively. Here’s a rundown of all the newcomers: Payton Pritchard; Guard, 6’2”, West Linn, Oregon Coming out of high school, Pritchard was the top recruit in the state of Oregon. After verbally committing to Oklahoma his
junior year, Pritchard decommitted in July of 2015. A little over a month later he committed to Oregon. Pritchard already created a legacy for himself during his prep days at West Linn, winning four consecutive state titles for the Lions. He ranked as the 54th-best player in ESPN’s top 100 as well as the 13th-best guard in the nation. He averaged 23.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 3.1 steals per game his senior year. He was named the 2014 Class 6A boys basketball Player of the Year as a sophomore. His junior year, he was the 2014-15 Gatorade Oregon Player of the Year. Kavell Bigby-Williams; Forward/Center, 6’11”, London, England For the second-straight year, Altman landed the reigning Spalding NJCAA Division I Player of the Year. BigbyWilliams spent his past two seasons at Gillette College in Wyoming, where he put together an impressive resume. He averaged 10.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game his freshman year en route to third-team All-Region honors. He improved dramatically in his second season, tallying 16.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 blocks per game and earning NJCAA first-team allAmerica honors. The Londonnative also recorded a
nation-high 211 blocks and collected five triple-doubles in points, rebounds and blocks that season. The Pronghorns went 35-2 and finished third at the junior college national tournament. Keith Smith; Forward, 6’7”, Seattle, Washington The three-star recruit started his prep career at Franklin High School before transferring to Rainier Beach for his junior and senior years. He battled injuries for much of his high school career but proved his worth the few games he was healthy. Smith only played 10 games his junior year but averaged 18.5 points in those games. Limited to 13 games as a senior, he scored 15.3 points per game and helped Rainier Beach to its third-straight 3A State Championship. Michael Cage Jr; Forward/Center, 6’10”, Santa Ana, California Cage, son of former NBA player Michael Cage, spent his prep career at one of the premier high schools in the country, Mater Dei. He averaged 14.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as a sophomore and played alongside future NBA lottery pick Stanley Johnson. He helped lead the Monarchs to both a California state title and national title in 2013-2014 and was co-MVP of the Trinity League as a senior. Paul White; Forward, 6’9”, Chicago, Illinois He played his first two collegiate seasons at Georgetown and averaged 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game as a freshman, appearing in all 33 games for the Hoyas that year. He suffered an abdominal injury that caused him to miss all but seven games his sophomore season. A top-50 recruit in the nation as a senior at Whitney Young High School, he averaged 22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 Oregon Ducks guard assists and 4 steals Payton Pritchard (3) in his final looks to pass the ball year in high while being guarded by school. Valparaiso Crusaders guard Tevonn Walker (2). (Kaylee Domzalski)
By Zak Laster Oregon women’s basketball’s seven new freshmen are set to compete for playing time. Third-year head coach Kelly Graves and his staff assembled a 2016 recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation according to espnW’s recruiting rankings. The Ducks were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12. “I think all the freshmen are real talented, so we really don’t know who’s going to step up yet,” sophomore guard Maite Cazorla said at Pac-12 media day. Here’s a look at each new player on the team: Sabrina Ionescu, Guard, 5’10”, Walnut Creek, California Ionescu is the highest-ranked recruit ever to sign with Oregon. Ranked as the No. 4 high school player in the nation, Ionescu was named the USA Today and MaxPreps national player of the year. Through the Ducks’ first three games, she’s been an offensive leader. Her best game to date came against Texas-San Antonio (26 points and eight rebounds). Ruthy Hebard, Forward, 6’4”, Fairbanks, Alaska Hebard was ranked the No. 40 recruit in the nation. At Fairbanks High School, she averaged 25.9 points, 15.1 rebounds and 2.9 steals as a senior. She was named Alaska Gatorade State Player of the Year three times during her high school career. Her first start came in the third game of the season, against UTSA. She finished the game with 5 points and 7 rebounds. Morgan Yaeger, Guard, 5’9”, Adelaide, Australia Yeager played on the Australian U17 team that placed fifth in the 2014 World Championships. espnW ranked her the No. 92 overall recruit in the 2016 class. In her regular season debut for the Ducks, she scored five points in 10 minutes for the Ducks in their victory over Lamar. Jayde Woods, Guard, 6’1”, Los Angeles, California
Woods averaged 12.3 points, six rebounds and six assists during her senior year at Windward High School (Los Angeles). Her senior year, MaxPreps named her the second team allstate. In her time at Oregon, she has shown an ability to get to the rim and dish to the open shooter for assists. She can also consistently knock down open shots as shown by her 3-of-5 shooting performance in the season-opening victory against Lamar. Lydia Giomi, Forward, 6’6”, Seattle, Washington A two-time Metro League MVP for West Seattle High School, Giomi averaged a double-double of 15.2 points and 12.8 rebounds. She was a member of the Tree of Hope Nike EYBL team that took second at the 2015 national championship. Since arriving at Oregon she has seen limited minutes but has made the most of her opportunities, getting to the rim and being disruptive on defense. Mallory McGwire, Forward, 6’5”, Reno, Nevada Twice was named Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year, McGwire averaged a double-double of 15.4 points and 10.9 rebounds to go along with 3.9 blocked shots a game during her senior year. At Oregon, her ability to provide quality minutes off the bench, blocking shots and consistently putting up quality defensive performances could be beneficial to the team’s success in the long run. Sierra Campisano, Forward, 6’3”, San Diego, California As the No. 14 prospect in 2016, four
Oregon Ducks forward Ruthy Hebard (24) steals the ball from CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners guard Erika Williams (15). (Aaron Nelson)
times during her senior season at Torrey Pines High School, she scored over 40 points and 30 times she put up a double-double. So far at Oregon, Campisano has shown an ability to finish shots at the rim by utilizing a good mix of post moves. Against CSU Bakersfield, she scored 12 points in her Division I debut. “I think [this] will be the best young core of post players in the country,” Graves said. “I just don’t see anybody having four freshmen as talented and capable as the ones we have this year.” Only time will tell if these recruits find success in an Oregon uniform, but at the very least a youth movement is building for Graves and the Ducks. “We have a lot of really talented young pieces, a team that I think really gets along well and I think a team with a really bright future,” Graves said at Pac-12 media day. EMG Magazine
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Ducks hope to follow in the footsteps of the 1939 ‘Tall Firs’ BY JACK BUTLER The year was 1939 and Oregon just finished revolutionizing basketball.The “Tall Firs” became NCAA Champions when they beat Ohio State 46-33 in the inaugural NCAA Tournament. They were nicknamed the “Tall Firs” because they held a height advantage over most teams. Slim Wintermute, the tallest player, stood at 6-foot-8. Cont. on page 15 Roman Sorkin (41) shoots the ball against the Army Black Knights on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (Adam Eberhardt)
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Kavell Bigby-Williams (35) dives the ball in the in an exhibition game against Northwest Christian University Beacons. (Adam Eberhardt)
Seventy-seven years later, the average height of Oregon’s men’s basketball team is again 6’8”, but the “Tall Firs” of 2016 will swat any shot that comes their way as they anchor the defense. Five Oregon players stand taller than 6’8”: Jordan Bell, MJ Cage, Chris Boucher, Roman Sorkin and Kavell Bigby-Williams; All of them are long and athletic, and they all have shot blocking ability. “Well, it is going to be a big part of our defense,” head coach Dana Altman said.“We’ve got four guys who can change shots and block shots.” Boucher and Bell have started for Oregon through three games while Sorkin and Bigby-Williams have seen significant playing time off the bench. Cage is out
with a concussion. Boucher finished first in blocks in the Pac-12 last season. He ended the year with 110 blocks, 22 more than second place. Bell was not far behind in fourth place. Having multiple, athletic shot blockers benefits a defense in almost every way. Opposing players can be reluctant to drive to the basket, and if a shot is blocked, it can lead to an Oregon fast-break. Perimeter defenders are more likely to reach for steals or pressure opposing guards. “It definitely does let us be more aggressive,” sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey said.“Pressure is going to be key for us at the guard position because we have lots of rim protectors down low.”
Bigby-Williams, 6’11”, is the reigning Junior College Player of the Year. He averaged 5.6 blocks per game while playing at Gillette in Wyoming. The Ducks still see room for development on defense with some of the best shot blocking in the nation; they rank second in the Pac-12 in blocks through three games. “Offense is always going to come because we have such good scorers on the team,” Sorkin said. “We’re going to pick up the defense, and that’s when we are going to be really good.” The big men protecting the rim may lead this team to a title that only the “Tall Firs” of 1939 could do.
Oregon Ducks guard Dylan Ennis (31) gets past Army Black Knights forward Kennedy Edwards (10) as he drives towards the hoop. (Adam Eberhardt)
ONE LAST RUN FOR DYLAN ENNIS BY GUS MORRIS On June 30, Lake Forest Academy head basketball coach Matt Vaughn received a text from one of his former players. The text, sent to Vaughn and two of his assistants, was from Dylan Ennis, a standout at LFA who graduated in 2011. Ennis was letting them know he had officially been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and would be suiting up for Oregon in the 2016-2017 season. Vaughn, who coached Ennis his junior and senior years of high school, said he was happy for him, but reminded him he had one last goal to accomplish. “Got to cut down the nets,”Vaughn said, alluding to the tradition of teams cutting the nets off the baskets after winning the national championship game.“That’s what I keep telling him.That’s your goal; that’s why you wanted to stay.” A little more than three months removed from watching his former team, Villanova, win a national championship, Ennis was now set to return to an Oregon team that was reloading for a national title run of its own. In his sixth and final collegiate season, he will have a legitimate shot to help lead Oregon to its first national title since 1939. He’s come a long way to get there. Ennis spent the first two years of his prep career at Wings Academy in Brooklyn, New York before transferring to LFA. He was a much different player back then.
According to his brother,Tyler, who is currently playing for the Houston Rockets, Dylan was around 5-foot-2 heading into his sophomore year. Despite his size, he still commanded respect and was considered a leader on and off the court. Ennis’ growth spurt would come the following year. But standing a foot shorter than everyone else seemed to give him his drive and competitiveness that he still possesses today. “He was one of the guys you always knew had a chip on his shoulder,”Tyler Ennis said.“You see that now when you watch him play, just how fiery he is: diving on the floor, diving across the scorers table, stuff like that. He took that — being shorter, being a smaller guy — to a whole new level by taking it into every aspect of life.” When Ennis arrived at LFA in the Fall of 2009, Vaughn knew he had skill but said he didn’t stand out on the court. He had yet to develop athletically. Around the time he arrived at LFA, Ennis fell in love with the weight room. His offseason work during the summer of his junior year laid the foundation for the way he now plays the game. Vaughn said he became more athletic, developed more range and lift on his jumpshot and became difficult to guard. Ennis averaged 23 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and
1 block his senior year. He was considered a top-30 guard in the nation by ESPN and he had his eye on several midmajor schools before choosing Rice in Houston,Texas. Even though he only spent two years at LFA, Ennis left a lasting impression. “He was just a leader,”Vaughn said.“He had that charisma. ... He made a big impression quickly and by the time he was gone, it was like,‘Wow.’ It had felt like he had been here a lot longer than two years.” Ennis spent one season at Rice but averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game and was named to Conference USA All-Freshman Team.The Owls went 19-16 that season. Suddenly he began getting looks from some high-major schools and decided to transfer to Villanova. But due to NCAA transfer rules, Ennis had to sit out the 2012-13 season, in which the Wildcats went 20-14 and made the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In his two years at Villanova, Ennis was a key piece off the bench. He averaged 7.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 66 total games for the Wildcats and helped them make two separate runs in the NCAA Tournament. But Villanova’s emergence as a national powerhouse made it a destination for top recruits. When five-star guard Jalen Brunson committed to Nova in September of 2014, Ennis sensed his playing time would suffer. Once again, he looked to transfer. He found his next destination about 3,000 miles away — in Eugene, where Oregon head coach Dana Altman was building a west coast powerhouse. This time, Ennis played immediately. He spent his summer working out with the team and quickly established himself as one of Oregon’s best players in the fall. But Ennis injured his foot during fall and re-aggravated the injury later, causing him to miss the remainder of what he thought was his final collegiate season.
“I couldn’t play last year and I was just praying to come back and play with these guys another year,” Ennis said. Nov. 7 marked Ennis’s return to the court. Even though it was only an exhibition game against Northwest Christian, Ennis showcased the versatility he brings to the team. He recorded 11 points, three rebounds and five assists. As of Nov. 17, Ennis averaged 9.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 31 minutes per game. A little rust is expected after being away from the sport for over a year. Altman said he has “a ways to go” to being back where he needs to be. If Ennis does return to full form, he’ll help his team in a number of ways: “He brings a lot of energy, and he’s a bigger guard so it helps us because he can get to the rim and he brings a different aspect on defense,” Boucher said after playing NCU.“He’s a little longer, a little bigger, so he can guard multiple positions. It really helps us.” Both Tyler and Vaughn said they’re going to watch every Oregon game they can. “He’s faced a lot of challenges in life,” Vaughn said.“I’m proud of him at the fact that he’s been able to face these different kinds of challenges, different places, different coaches.“It’s not easy.” Neither will winning a national championship, but Ennis is ready to give it one more shot. “It’s not easy.” Neither will winning a national championship, but Ennis is ready to give it one more shot.
Ennis is not one to give up easily. He decided to petition the NCAA to allow him to play for one final season. After all, he had only logged 21 minutes that year. On June 30, Ennis got the news he had been waiting months for: He was coming back. He wasn’t the only one either. Forward Chris Boucher had recently been cleared by the NCAA to return to Oregon, despite being declared a senior the year before due to the circumstances of his high school graduation. Forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey were also coming back after withdrawing from the NBA Draft.
Photo by Kaylee Domzalski.
Sabrina Ionescu and Maite Cazorla: A perfect pair in the making B Y S H AW N M E D O W Maite Cazorla and Sabrina Ionescu could form one of the deadliest partnerships in women’s basketball during their three years together. With seven incoming freshmen, Cazorla, a sophomore, has had to step into the role of a veteran player. Ionescu, who was ranked fourth in her class nationally, joined the backcourt this year. Now the two skilled guards are learning to play together on the court at Matthew Knight Arena. “It’s really nice playing with a similar person with similar with similar basketball IQ and characteristics,” Ionescu said. “I like
playing with her and I think she likes playing with me.” Ionescu went 3-of-12 from 3-point range in her first game for Oregon, but coaches and players said her performance doesn’t foreshadow her potential. Cazorla is confident about her newest teammate succeeding in in the Pac-12. “She’s incredible,” Cazorla said of Ionescu. “I love playing with her. She’s just really good offensively. She’s also smart on defense. She’s a really good player. I’m really sure she will [gain national attention].” Ionescu’s capabilities range from shooting to passing to controlling
the tempo of the game on the court. “I think she’s really competitive,” Cazorla said. “She wants to do great things and she wants the team to do great things. She’s a great passer, she’s a scorer — she can do everything.” Following Oregon’s win over Lamar, Ionescu appeared frustrated by her shooting off-night. Redshirt junior Megan Trinder knew the Ionescu, was not going to simply brush off her performance. “She’ll probably be in the gym after this putting up threes,” Trinder said. For head coach Kelly Graves,
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Oregon guard Maite Cazorla (5) tries to steal the ball from NCU guard Katerina Brejchova (14). (Kaylee Domzalski)
playing two similar guards in Cazorla and Ionescu gives Oregon plenty of options for not just this season but seasons to come.
at a couple players who could be among the best backcourts in the country. They’re just really young right now.”
“[They are] two players with elite vision,” Graves said. “They can really set a play up. They understand the game, they can both play pick-and-roll basketball. When they’re playing together, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Cazorla and Ionescu could very well form a dangerous duo in Oregon’s backcourt. It will be important that the two form a relationship together on the court in which each of them can play at their best.
“I think in some time you’re looking
go off a screen,” Ionescu said. “We see each other move the ball well. It also relieves pressure for just having one person bring it up the court or not being able to give it to another guard as well.” Last season, Graves called UCLA’s Nirra Fields and Jordin Canada “the best 1-2 combination in the country.” With Fields graduated and the conference evolving, Graves may soon have a backcourt of his own worthy of national recognition.
“Either one of us can take the ball up the court. Either one of us can
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Pac-12 teams and players who could upset the Ducks’ season B Y R YA N K O S T E C K A Entering the 2016-17 college basketball season, Oregon is widely seen as the new face of the Pac-12. Returning four of its five starters from last year’s Elite Eight team, it’s no shock that the Ducks entered the season ranked No. 5 in the nation. With Oregon on top and the rest of the Pac-12 attempting to close the gap, here are the teams and players who could deter the Ducks from their dream season.
PLAYERS Markelle Fultz, G, Washington Photo by Michael Shaw
Photo by Michael Shaw
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If Fultz played for a better team, he could potentially be the Pac-12 player of the year. He is a do-everything type of point guard and is expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft next year. In his first game against a talented Yale squad, Fultz dropped 30 points with seven rebounds and six assists. He is a nightmare to defend because he’s big for a point guard (6-foot-4), but quick enough to go around any defender. With him on the court, the Huskies always have a chance.
Ivan Rabb, F, California Rabb is a preseason all-American and for good reason. He passed up a first-round draft pick last year to return to the Golden Bears. He’s 6-foot-11 with the skill set of a point guard and averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds last year. Because of his all around game, expect Cal to run its offense through him. He’s also a smart player, willingly finding the open man when double-teamed. Rabb might not put up insane numbers, but he will be the reason Cal wins.
Lauri Markkanen, F, Arizona Markkanen, from Finland, is a seven-footer who can shoot from anywhere on the floor, dribble like a guard and post up like a big man. He’s a true threat to Oregon’s Dillon Brooks for Pac-12 player of the year because of his versatility. With Trier out for the foreseeable future, the Wildcats will go as far as Markannen takes them.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah; Lonzo Ball, UCLA;Tra Holder, Arizona State; Josh Hawkinson, Washington State 20
TEAMS Arizona The Wildcats appeared to be the most logical choice to defeat the Ducks at the beginning of the season. But after a string of bad luck, Arizona is now seen as a dark horse. With Ray Smith retiring and Allonzo Trier’s status unknown, the Wildcats are left with a thin roster. But, they return do-it-all 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. If Trier can return and freshman Kobi Simmons steps up, Arizona will be in the hunt until the end.
California The Golden Bears have one bonafide superstar in Ivan Rabb. In order to contend for the Pac-12 title, it will be Rabb’s teammates who push Cal over the hump. Jabari Bird is a proven veteran who’s averaged double-digit points the past two years. Freshman Charlie Moore is an attack-first guard who will take some of the scoring pressure off Rabb. Cal is good, but it will take being great to remain atop the Pac-12 hierarchy.
UCLA Consistently stocked with talent, the Bruins have struggled to live up to preseason hype year in and year out. With the addition of freshman superstar Lonzo Ball, UCLA has a pass-first point guard.The Bruins have one of the best starting fives in the conference with Ball, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton,Thomas Welsh and T.J. Leaf. Still, UCLA will need some added depth in order to really challenge the Ducks.
Cal stars AAU team infusing Pac-12 rosters B Y J O N AT H A N H AW T H O R N E Before donning Oregon green and yellow, Mallory McGwire and Sabrina Ionescu had a close friendship from their time crisscrossing the country for the Cal Stars AAU club team. They grew even closer when McGwire — a Reno, Nevada, native — practiced in the Bay Area with the team. She’d often stay with Ionescu or at Cal Stars coach Kelly Sopak’s house.The two Oregon Ducks — along with Oregon State’s Kat Tudor, USC’s Valerie Higgins and Minyon Moore and Washington’s Aarion McDonald — have infused the Pac-12 with freshman talent. “The league [Pac-12] is so good that it’s hard for kids to justify going away when you can stay relatively close to home,” Sopak said.“And get the competition and national notoriety that they need.” On elite travel teams, talent levels mean players can grow their confidence and skills.Though Cal Stars practices were a four-hour drive for McGwire, the opportunity meant more than exposure and development. In McGwire and Ionescu, Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said Oregon signed “two of the best stars.” “It’s one of the premier programs in the country,” Graves said of the club team.“Premier programs become so because they have talent. It’s nice to see a lot of that talent on the West Coast stay in the Pac-12.” McGwire and Ionescu play different positions on the court, but channel the same competitive drive to win, Sopak said. “[McGwire] has a hidden fire in her that you don’t really detect right away,” Sopak said.“She just hides it a little bit more than [Ionescu] does. With [Ionescu], you’re going to find out how competitive she is right away.” McGwire said she’s looking forward to seeing former teammates at Pac-12 games this year. But in the meantime, she’s cherishing her connection with Ionescu. “Playing with Sabrina for the last two years has really boosted my confidence,” she said.“She made me a better player. I love playing with her.” 22
Oregon forward Sabrina Ionescu dribbles the ball during the Nov. 18 game aganist CSC Bakersfield. (Aaron Nelson)
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