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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Oregon State seemed on a roll in Pac-12 tournament; now the team will have a new look

PMG FILE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - WAYNE TINKLEAlready, it's on to next season for Wayne Tinkle and his Oregon State coaching staff.

Not only did the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the 2019-20 season, it also has put a temporary clamp on recruiting.

"It's a dead period for us until April 15," Tinkle said Saturday. "We can't go out to see (prospects), and there are no on-campus visits. So we'll be working the phones, getting together as a staff every night."

Tinkle and his assistants already have two recruits in the fold, both forwards, for next season.

Isaiah Johnson, a 6-6, 200-pound high school senior from Torrance, California, signed a letter-of-intent last November.

"After Sean Miller-Moore, Isaiah will be our most vertical athlete next season," Tinkle said. "He's pretty darn athletic, and he plays his tail off. He's a warrior."

And last week, Rodrigue Andela, a 6-8, 230-pound sophomore at Kilgore (Texas) JC, offered a verbal commitment to Oregon State. In a 93-87 regional playoff loss to Lee JC of Bayton, Texas, Andela collected 24 points and 17 rebounds.

Tinkle took a moment to reflect on the sad news of two days earlier, when the Beavers were told the Pac-12 tournament would be shut down hours before their scheduled quarterfinal matchup with Oregon.

OSU was coming off an emotional 71-69 first-round victory over Utah on Wednesday, a game won by a last-second 3-point shot by freshman Jarod Lucas.

"After the game, we had a meal and a walk-through to get ready for Oregon," Tinkle said. "The guys were giddy. (Thursday) we had a pregame meal at 8 a.m., then everybody went up to our rooms. We were going to leave for the arena at 10:15, taped and ready to go.

"I was lounging in my room when I got a text that (tournament cancellation) was being considered. About 20 minutes later, I got another text, this one that we weren't playing."

By the time the coaches and players gathered in a meeting room, word had spread about the bad news.

"We told them it wasn't fair, but it was the smart thing to do, because nobody knows enough about the virus," Tinkle said. "At that point, there was no announcement about the status of the NCAA or NIT (tournaments), so there was a little glimmer of hope."

That was dashed in short order. And so were any future games played with OSU's two seniors, Tres Tinkle — the coach's son — and Kylor Kelley.

"It got pretty emotional when we had to say goodbye to them," Coach Tinkle said. "The looks in the players' eyes were of disappointment. They wanted to keep playing. But we helped them understand the situation, that it's a nationwide deal and not just the Pac-12.

"We felt good going into the Oregon game. We were playing our best basketball. We had an engaged group. To have it come to such an abrupt end — especially with the emotion coming off the night before — was tough. We had a few moments of sentiments, then released everyone to get on with their lives."

With an 18-13 record heading into the Oregon game, Oregon State was assured of at least an NIT bid. A run to the Pac-12 tournament title would mean a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"Last year, Oregon didn't have a shot to go to the NCAAs, then won their way into it," Tinkle said. "We felt like we had that opportunity. The NCAA Tournament is what we shoot for every year. But we certainly were going to the NIT."

In his six years at OSU, Tinkle has made the NCAAs once — in 2015-16, his second season at the helm. But he has had four winning seasons and only one losing campaign — 5-27 in 2016-17, when Tres was sidelined with an injury for nearly the entire season.

Oregon State's last previous NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1990, Gary Payton's senior season. In the years between then and Tinkle's first season (2014-15), OSU had two winning seasons (2004-05 with Jay John, and an NIT berth, and 2011-12 with Craig Robinson).

"We haven't done all that we want to do, but we feel good about the direction of the program," Tinkle said. "We've established a winning culture. Now it's time to take the next step — getting to the postseason year after year."

The Beavers will go into next season without two of their three best players — Tres Tinkle, the school's all-time leading scorer, and Kelley, the second-leading shot-blocker in the nation this season. There will be senior leadership, though, from guard Ethan Thompson.

It will be Ethan's team in 2020-21. The 6-5 son of OSU assistant coach Stevie Thompson already is 24th on the school's career scoring list and 11th on the assists list. A healthy, productive senior season could move him ahead of older brother Stevie Jr. and into fifth place on the scoring list, and to third place behind Payton and George Tucker in assists.

Other seniors returning include starters Zach Reichle at shooting guard and Alfred Hollins at small forward, along with small forward Miller-Moore and center Roman Silva. It's doubtful that center/forward Payton Dastrup, who has had academic difficulties, will be back.

Guards Antoine Vernon, a junior, and sophomores-to-be Lucas and Gianni Hunt will be back and will be in competition for starting duty, Tinkle said.

Then there is 6-10, 235-pound center Dearon Tucker, who got some action late in the season and should be a factor along the front line as a sophomore in 2020-21.

"I'm excited about Dearon," Tinkle said. "For a while, he didn't think he was going to be in the mix, and he wasn't giving us everything we had to have in practice. We challenged him, he kicked it into gear and we rewarded him a little down the stretch. Now he understands everything that goes into it to be an every-day guy. It will be fun to watch him develop."

The other returnee to watch is 6-7 small forward Julien Franklin, who chose to redshirt this season.

"Julian told me it would be best for the program and for him to get in the weight room for a year and look at things for the long haul," Tinkle said. "He's a little like Tres — a 2/3/4 who can guard multiple positions. He has a high motor and a high-level basketball IQ. I think the fans are going to quickly fall in love with him."

Tinkle expects to have one or two more scholarships to use.

"I like the guys we have coming in," he said. "If we land a couple of guys we're recruiting, I'll really be excited."

Tinkle expects recruiting to take on a different effect in the future. The three best players he has recruited to Oregon State are coach's kids — Tres Tinkle and Stevie Thompson Jr. and Ethan Thompson.

"As much as Tres meant to our program, it inhibited us in some ways recruiting-wise," the OSU coach said. "Some parents said, 'We're not going to send our kid where the head coach's kid is the best guy.' There has been some of that with Stevie Jr. and Ethan, too.

"As much as we loved coaching all three of them, there are some people out there who wouldn't allow us to recruit their players. Having two of the three gone will open up some doors. I'm excited for the next phase in our program."

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