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Altman looks forward to coaching West Linn star

EUGENE — The Oregon men’s basketball team does not have an in-state player on its roster this season, but that will change next year.

Point guard Payton Pritchard of West Linn High School was the top prospect in the state for the Class of 2016 when he signed with the Ducks last week.

“Payton is someone that we needed to have here,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said Wednesday. “He is a really good player and his instincts are really good. He is very competitive. He has won three state titles already so I like his fight. He is a really skilled player and a good guy.”

The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder was ranked as the No. 42 overall prospect and eighth-best point guard in his class by ESPN. He averaged 22 points and 5.8 assists as a junior while being named Class 6A state player of the year for the second consecutive season.

“You want to get good players from the state and Payton is a good one,” Altman said. “We are excited about having him here.”

Pritchard was one of three preps to sign with the Ducks during the early signing period that ended Wednesday.

MJ Cage, a 6-9, 210-pound power forward from Santa Ana, Calif., is the son of former NBA star Michael Cage. Cage was a teammate of former Arizona star Stanley Johnson as a sophomore when Mater Dei High School won a state championship and then he averaged 13.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocks as a junior.

“He is a really good player with tremendous upside with his size and mobility,” Altman said. “He can run and is a skilled player. I think his best days are ahead of him.”

Keith Smith, a 6-7, 190-pound forward from Seattle, averaged 21 points per game as a sophomore at Franklin High School before transferring to Rainier Beach and averaging 18.5 points despite battling injuries as a junior.

“He can really shoot it,” Altman said. “He has been out a while with his knee but he is healthy now and we expect him to have a great year. With his size he can get his shot off over a lot of people. I think he can be a really good shooter for us.”

Oregon’s recruiting class varied in rankings, from No. 10 by Scout.com to No. 30 by ESPN.

“I am really excited,” Altman said. “I think all three of those guys are going to be solid players for us. I don’t want to put expectations too high on those guys, but they are three good basketball players and all three seem to be really excited about being here.”

EARLY TEST PASSED: Oregon’s 74-67 win over No. 20 Baylor on the fourth day of the regular season Monday night gave the Ducks their earliest measuring stick against a ranked opponent since they lost to No. 7 Vanderbilt 78-64 in the opener of Altman’s second season on Nov. 11, 2011.

“They were like me, let’s go find out where we are at,” Altman said of his players’ emotions before hosting Baylor. “They weren’t overly excited. They wanted to win and they expected to win. We hadn’t played a team of that caliber. Two exhibition games and Jackson State, we weren’t sure what we were ready for. I tried to be honest with the guys. We’re going to play this kind of competition, we’re going to have to play a different way. I’m not sure if we are ready, but let’s go swing away and see. The guys were confident, but yet it was our first big test. We hadn’t had any big tests, so lets just go see where we are at.”

With six players back from last year when Oregon reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament, the Ducks were eager to see how they stacked up against Baylor, which was a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament before being upset by Georgia State in the second round.

Oregon earned its first nonconference win over a ranked opponent at home since beating No. 25 Minnesota 90-81 on Dec. 22, 2003. It was the first nonconference win for the Ducks over a ranked team in the regular season since beating No. 18 UNLV 83-79 on Dec. 23, 2012.

“It kind of set the bar for how good we can be,” senior forward Elgin Cook said. “We want to keep working at it and try to improve and be better.”

The Ducks should be able to do that when forward Jordan Bell and guard Dylan Ennis return from foot injuries. Bell is expected back in a couple of weeks while Ennis is likely out for at least another month.