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Paul Danzer On College Hoops: Ducks lament premature end to men's basketball season, but see bigger picture

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Senior Payton Pritchard got to cut down the net as Oregon won the 2020 Pac-12 regular-season title.Instead of leading his Oregon Ducks against Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament, Dana Altman spent much of Thursday sequestered in his Las Vegas hotel room.

"I kind of pouted in my room all day," the Ducks' coach said during a Friday press conference at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.

Not that he questions the decision to cancel the NCAA Tournament in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"These decisions were tough for the people who made them, but they had to make these decisions," Altman said. "It's just part of life."

That life will now be quite different for Altman, who is used to March being one of his busiest months followed by a hectic recruiting period in April. But the coach noted that life will be strikingly different for everyone, possibly for much longer than a couple of months.

"We're just going to have to play it day by day and hope this doesn't hit as hard as some people are projecting and we get through it a little bit quicker than anticipated. But it is going to be a change for all of us," Altman said.

Senior guard Payton Pritchard called missing out on the NCAA Tournament frustrating.

"I really felt like this team, we had a chance to do something special," he said.

But Pritchard listed a strong nonconference season and the run to the Pac-12 regular-season championship as special accomplishments for this Ducks' team, which finished 24-7 and was ranked 13th in the AP and coaches' polls.

"We accomplished a lot of what we set out to do," he said. "It has been a great year."

It was a great season for the 6-2 West Linn High graduate. He led the Pac-12 in scoring (20.5 points per game) and assists (5.6), joining Gary Payton (Oregon State, 1989-90), Damon Stoudamire (Arizona, 1994-95) and Jason Terry (Arizona, 1998-99) as the only players in conference history to lead in both points and assists.

Pritchard ends his Oregon career as the program leader in wins (105), assists (659) and games started (140). His 211 steals are three shy of the program record (Kenya Wilkins (1993-97) and his 1,938 points are 138 shy of Ronnie Lee's program record 2,075.

Instead of playing in the NCAA Tournament for a third time or preparing for the NBA draft, Pritchard said the focus for himself and his teammates is to "stay healthy and be with our families."

Altman noted his own 87-year-old father is in assisted living.

"That's the first concern," Altman said. "Then you start thinking about older people that you know. I'm over 60, so I'm in that (higher-risk) group."

Given the severity of the risk, Altman said canceling the NCAA Tournament is a small thing.

"There's a health crisis going on," Altman said. "Payton's grandfather, what if he's following the team and something happens to him? You put everything in perspective, you wouldn't want that."

Asked about suggestions that current seniors be granted an extra season of eligibility, Altman said such a decision would be unlikely to impact his team.

Pritchard, the Pac-12 player of the year and a candidate for several national honors, definitely won't return for a fifth season with Oregon.

"He's ready. He could have went (to the NBA) last year. He turned down a very good financial offer a year ago," Altman said. "He played so well this year, it's time. He's ready."

Pritchard agreed, but said he supports the idea of letting this year's seniors play an additional season.

"I feel for every athlete. There's really nothing like (the NCAA tournament)," Pritchard said.

Shakur Juiston and Anthony Mathis are fifth-year seniors. While Altman would welcome either back in such a scenario, he said each is probably ready to move on to the next phase of his life.

As for what life will hold for him in the coming weeks, Altman joked that he hasn't yet asked his wife what his plans are.

"I'm sure she'll have something for me," he said. "I might even have to do some work around the house."

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@pauldanzer

 


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