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Crater star center Nate Bittle trims list to 4

Citing a natural fit for his skillset and desire to remain close to family on the West Coast, Crater High five-star center Nate Bittle announced Friday that he has trimmed his list of prospective schools to, in alphabetical order, Arizona, Gonzaga, Oregon and UCLA.

The 6-foot-11, 200-pound senior-to-be is ranked No. 8 on the Class of 2021 ESPN 100 and has received All-American recognition the past two years on MaxPreps and USA Today listings to go with his selection this past season as Oregon’s Class 5A state player of the year.

"I think these four schools have the best chance of me doing good there with the way they could play me," said the versatile 17-year-old standout. "Hopefully going to one of those four schools will help me with my ultimate goal of going to the NBA."

Bittle was the final player cut in choosing last summer’s USA Basketball U16 national team, and is the ninth-rated 2021 prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings and No. 18 in the Rivals 150 for the Class of 2021.

He is the highest-rated boys basketball player to come out of Southern Oregon since South Medford High’s Kyle Singler was the No. 4 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2007.

A USA Basketball fixture as a prep player, Singler went on to play at Duke University, finishing as the 2010 Most Outstanding Player to cap a championship junior season, and played in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Making his announcement while on a family vacation at Lake of the Woods in Klamath County, Bittle said he expects to utilize his family's input and make a final decision where he will attend toward the end of October or beginning of November.

Bittle said the four finalists emerged due to the solid relationships he has formed during the recruiting process with coaches Sean Miller (Arizona), Mark Few (Gonzaga), Dana Altman (Oregon) and Mick Cronin (UCLA), and how each has been able to utilize players similar to Bittle over the years.

Bittle boasts a 7-5 wingspan and guard-like skills with his deft 3-point shooting stroke, passing and dribbling abilities. He’s also proven to be a rim protector with good timing and control while blocking shots. Bittle was dominant this past season for Crater in averaging 25.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals.

“The way that I can see myself playing in those four schools, being a big that can shoot, finish at the rim and block shots,” said Bittle, “they’ve all coached bigs that can do that and that’s something that I looked at a lot and something I want to be able to do in college.”

In his lone game at the 5A state tournament in March against South Albany, Bittle totaled 35 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in 23 minutes of action in a 76-43 win to push Crater into the semifinals before postseason play was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 10 blocks against South Albany in the state quarterfinals equaled his own all-classification state tournament record set last year against Pendleton.

In terms of what set each of the four schools apart, here’s what Bittle had to say about each:

ARIZONA: “Coach Sean Miller has been recruiting me for quite a while and he’s coached a lot of bigs that can do what I do. Lauri Markkanen was one of them that went to Arizona and can shoot and something I looked at.” Arizona also brought in a pair of Bittle’s West Coast Elite AAU program teammates in recent years in Nico Mannion and Josh Green.

GONZAGA: “Gonzaga has always just had a two-man big game, which is something that I like. They let their bigs shoot and also post up, and their offense runs a lot through the bigs.”

OREGON: “Oregon’s close to home with great coaches and they’ve always had a great team and a good program, going to the NCAA Tournament almost every year. Being successful there and fitting into what they do is something I really looked at.”

UCLA: “Coach Cronin has a tradition of winning and when he was at Cincinnati he coached bigs that could shoot and they’ve just always been a winning team. (Los Angeles) is also just really nice, I like it down there. Coach Cronin just has a winning mentality as a coach.”

While Bittle has remained non-committal over placing any program’s interest over another, Oregon has seemingly been a frontrunner in the recruiting process with the early and consistent efforts of Altman, who has made several trips to Central Point to watch Bittle practice, plus the recent production from Chris Boucher and Bol Bol in his system.

Bittle would become the highest-rated in-state commitment for Oregon basketball in program history, well ahead of West Linn’s Payton Pritchard (No. 54 for 247Sports in 2016).

That said, Miller and Cronin each ramped up their recruitment of Bittle in the past year to create their own positive identities, along with Few and his coaching staff.

To remain active during the pandemic, Bittle has been regularly running the Upper and Lower Table Rocks to complement his weight training regimen. He’s also been working with his father Ryan, who played basketball at Oregon Tech, and a high-level group of friends that played college basketball at a gym in White City.

One of those top-tier players making himself available for those 5-on-5 battles has been former South Medford and University of Oregon standout EJ Singler, who has continued playing basketball overseas after a few years in the NBA’s developmental league. EJ Singler is also Kyle Singler’s younger brother.

“He’s been there working out with me and I’ve been playing against him and guarding him and that’s just made me that much better over this whole pandemic,” said Bittle of EJ Singler’s presence.

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Nate Bittle dunks the ball off a pass during the 1st quarter.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Crater's Nate Bittle drives to the hoop for 2 points in the 1st quarter.