When others were skeptical, E.J. Singler always held true to his beliefs.
Sure he was a high school standout in basketball and football at South Medford, but could his abilities translate to the collegiate level?
WHO: A 6-foot-6 four-year starting forward for the University of Oregon men's basketball team.
SINGLER'S CAREER RANKINGS AT OREGON
Wins: 89 (1st)
Scoring: 1,546 points (11th)
Rebounds: 727 (11th)
Steals: 110 (11th)
Blocked shots: 63 (9th)
Free throws made: 364 (9th)
Free throw percentage: .848 (6th)
3-pointers made: 168 (10th)
Sure he worked his way into the University of Oregon men's basketball lineup, but he's not the kind of player who can make a big impact on the program, right?
And we're talking about the Ducks, mind you, it's not as if they can play on a national level with the big boys, right?
Whatever questions there may have been, Singler didn't waste any time with them. He knew what he could accomplish if given the chance, and stood confident in an approach forged by hard work and an undeniable passion to succeed.
"I just don't think that E.J. ever spent much time listening to what he couldn't be and I think that went a long way for him," said Josh Jamieson, Oregon's director of operations for men's basketball and a longtime friend of the Singler family. "There were some of us that certainly believed that he could accomplish great things but, for the most part, there weren't terribly many in the early days. I just think his approach, and the only way he was ever going to know what he could accomplish, was to work as hard as he can and then see how that worked out."
For Singler and the Oregon program, the results speak for themselves, and hopefully will translate into future success as well.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward recently wrapped up his career with the most wins in Duck history (89) and ranked among the top 11 in seven other statistical categories. He went from someone many thought would redshirt in his freshman year to a player that started 132 of his 142 games at Oregon and earned quite a backing among the Duck faithful.
"The past four years have been the best four years of my life," said Singler, who turns 23 on June 6 and earned his degree in psychology earlier this year. "Playing for Oregon was one of my dreams and I got to experience that. It was unbelievable to represent the state I'm from. I was really honored and proud to put the jersey on each and every day and play for Oregon."
"The community in Eugene and the Oregon fans in general were unbelievable," he added. "They embraced me from Day 1 and they were there for me throughout my four years."
This past season was both gratifying and grueling for Singler, who battled knee tendinitis in the fall that sidelined him for eight weeks, including the first four weeks of team practices.
"It affected me but throughout the year it got a lot better and it's fine right now so that's good news at this time that I'm going into a new chapter in my life," he said.
That new chapter included Singler's invitation to the Reese's College All-Star Game in Atlanta during the Final Four (he had 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists in his East team's 87-81 win) and the Portsmouth Invitational, where his team finished third last weekend in Virginia. Playing alongside the likes of Miami's Durand Scott, Clemson's Devin Booker and Southeastern Conference standouts Elston Turner (Texas A&M) and Murphy Holloway (Ole Miss), Singler averaged 11.3 points and five rebounds in three games.
"It's a different kind of style of basketball for me because I've never really played in these all-star games before but they've definitely been fun," he said. "I think the big thing for me was to get that exposure and have the opportunity to play in front of almost 200 scouts. I felt like I belonged there and I think I held my own so it was a good trip for me."
Singler said he plans to continue to hone his basketball skills, and hopes his showings at the all-star events will garner him invitations to upcoming NBA combines and individual team workouts. After packing up in Eugene, Singler will head to Los Angeles and join older brother Kyle for offseason workouts.
"My hope is just to continue to do what I do and hopefully I impress someone," said Singler. "Maybe I get picked up by the NBA, maybe I go overseas and play, I don't know what's going to happen but my job is to continue to do what I do and work hard and the chips will go where they go."
Count his college coaches Dana Altman and Ernie Kent among those who think there still is a future on the hardcourt for Singler.
"I think he'll get an opportunity and all those intangibles we've talked about are things that are important," said Altman. "He can shoot the ball and is versatile and can play a number of positions. I'm not sure what the future holds for him but I know he'll give it his best shot and he'll play somewhere."
Added Kent: "He made himself into what every coach in the country would want and that's a glue guy. He kind of holds the team together with everything he does ... and I think when it came down to the bright lights of gametime, you could always count on him."
When Kent recruited Singler to the school, his team was coming off an 8-23 campaign and needed a spark to right the ship. That 2009 recruiting class also included Jamil Wilson, a McDonald's All-American that played the same position as Singler but eventually found himself playing behind the Medford product and ultimately transferred to Marquette.
The Ducks finished 16-16 in that first season and Kent was replaced by Altman but still remained friendly with Singler over the years, often serving as a television commentator for Oregon games. Due to a mass exodus that greeted Altman, Singler served as the last recruit with ties to Kent's tenure at Oregon — and that factor wasn't lost on the former coach.
"If he was going to be the last one, I feel very, very proud to have it be that way with all his successes, not only athletically but as someone who earned his degree and did everything the right way," said Kent. "Obviously he turned out to be one of the best ones we recruited there and one of the most successful ones ever to play for the University of Oregon."
"We knew he was going to be successful," added Kent. "Did we know he was going to be at the level of passing guys like Freddie Jones, Luke Ridnour and Joevan Catron? No, that's all E.J., and somebody who figured out along his course of destiny how to be the most successful person he could be through hard work and dedication."
Statistically, Singler wrapped up his Oregon career ranked 11th in points scored (1,546), rebounds (727) and steals (110). His 63 blocked shots rank ninth, along with his 364 free throws made, and his free throw percentage of .848 stands sixth. He's 10th in 3-pointers made with 168, and his 286 assists aren't too far off the top 10 — like most of his aforementioned figures.
E.J. and Kyle Singler also stand 13th in all-time scoring for brother combinations with 3,938 points between their stellar runs at Oregon and Duke, respectively.
While all that serves as a point of pride for Singler, being part of Oregon's ascension back into national prominence serves as his lasting legacy. He hit a last-second game-winner as a sophomore to help Oregon win the College Basketball Invitational and finish 21-18 in Altman's first season, then was a driving force for a 24-10 run as a junior that ended in the third round of the NIT.
This past season, Oregon (28-9) was ranked as high as 10th in the nation at the end of January, swept the Pac-12's northwest schools (Oregon State, Washington, Washington State) for the first time since the 1925-26 season and claimed the Pac-12 tournament title before falling to Louisville in the NCAA tournament's regional semifinals.
"It's definitely cool that I can say, coming in and leaving the way I did, that I left the program better and that's really all I can ask for," said Singler. "I don't really care anything about the stats or whatever, I left the program in a better position than when I came in and that's really what means the most to me and really what I'm happiest about."
Altman praised Singler for all the leadership and intangibles he provided during what the coach deemed an "unselfish" run at Oregon.
"He was all about the team and he was tough enough to make a lot of plays that maybe he didn't have the God-given ability to make but he just willed them in," said Altman. "If we won, that was all that mattered to him. He didn't worry about his stats or any of that as long as we won."
"Personally I'm going to miss seeing him every day," added the coach, "but our team's going to miss him because he provided a lot of leadership for us the past three years. We've been able to have some success because of his leadership and unselfishness and toughness."
While Singler has a special part in Kent's heart as his last Oregon player, the same is true for Altman, who credits Singler among a small group that boosted his transition from Creighton.
"There were three guys I owe a lot to," said Altman. "Joevan Catron, Garrett Sim and E.J., they were the three guys who stepped up right away and said, 'I want to play for the University of Oregon,' and didn't care if I was the coach. Those three guys I'll forever be indebted to because we would've never gotten started if it wasn't for those three guys."