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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Ducks in need of frontcourt help

By Brandon P. Oliver

The Oregon campus is buzzing with hope after the Pac-12 tournament champion Ducks' Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman -- the Pac-12 Coach of the Year --  has solidified himself as one of the better coaches in the college game. Altman has done a masterful job of piecing together a roster left in shambles by the previous Ducks' staff.

Altman has recruited well, including last year's class which included the future of the Oregon program. Point guard Dominic Artis, shooting guard Damyean Dotson and power forward Ben Carter are a formidable trio that should lead the Ducks to even greater heights. While Artis -- No. 62 in the 2012 ESPN 100 -- was certainly a huge signing for Altman, the Ducks are still searching for a true game-changer on the hardwood. Artis was the point guard the Ducks were in desperate need of, but the front court is where the Ducks have always fallen short.

Last year, the Ducks were finalists for forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona) and forward Anthony Bennett (UNLV). Both of the front-court stars made a big impact on their respective teams as freshmen this season. On Wednesday, the Ducks once again played the bridesmaid to Arizona for the top forward on the West Coast. Aaron Gordon (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty) -- No. 4 in the ESPN 100 -- committed to the Wildcats during a press conference at the McDonald's All-American Game media day.

Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon's choice of Arizona leaves Oregon falling short for an impact foward once again.
The Ducks were in the mix for the Blake Griffin clone but once again are left looking elsewhere for an impact frontcourt player. Along with Gordon, fellow Bay Area recruits Jabari Bird (Richmond, Calif./Salesian) and Marcus Lee (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley) both had the Ducks in their final group before signing with California and Kentucky, respectively, during November's early signing period. Altman did manage to sign F Jordan Bell (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), who should make an immediate impact next season. Bell plays much bigger than 6-foot-6, as his long and athletic frame allow him to rebound and block shots like he's 6-foot-10. Bell's impact will almost certainly be felt on defense, but his offensive game has much room for improvement.

The Ducks are in need of a frontcourt scorer that can settle in the low block and create problems for the defense. There are not a lot of options for skilled big men, but now that Altman has a point guard, a big man would make the Ducks a force to be reckoned with. Artis, along with the emergence of Johnathan Loyd, give the Ducks a point guard that can penetrate and create, something they haven't had since Aaron Brooks.

Altman and his staff will need to focus on identifying a talented big man to replace Tony Woods and Arsalan Kazemi. Neither was an offensive force, but both contributed to the Ducks success in other ways. The Ducks did sign a wild card in 6-foot-9, 240-pound Cristiano Felicio (Sacramento, Calif./CCSE Prep), but the Brazilian's eligibility -- among other things -- is still in question due to ongoing issues at his prep school. He is a talented player that can play inside and out and he could be a real difference maker if he becomes eligible and develops the way the Ducks hope he can.

For now, it looks as if Carter, Austin Kuemper and Waverly Austin will have to step up on the low block while hoping Felicio develops quickly. Bell will need to come in and develop on the offensive side of the ball as soon as possible if the Ducks hope to make another Pac-12 title run and advance in the NCAA Tournament.