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Oregon's Altman used to rebuilding, reloading

OMAHA, Neb. — Oregon coach Dana Altman has taken the Ducks to three straight NCAA Tournaments with three different teams.

A different leadership group has emerged each season to help the Ducks put together their longest string of NCAA Tournament trips.

E.J. Singler, an Ernie Kent recruit inherited by Altman when he arrived at Oregon in 2010, and one-year transfer Arsalan Kazemi led the Ducks past Oklahoma State and Saint Louis in the NCAA Tournament two years ago before Oregon lost to eventual champion Louisville.

Last season, seniors Johnathan Loyd, Mike Moser and Jason Calliste helped the Ducks finish strong to reach the tournament, where they defeated BYU before almost upsetting Wisconsin.

Joseph Young and Elgin Cook, the two veterans on the roster this season, have come up big to get Oregon (25-9) back to the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks will face Oklahoma State (18-13) in the second round at 3:50 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink Center.

No player on the current Oregon roster was with the team during its 2013 Sweet 16 run.

“We did it with a lot of new guys, but those two carried us,” Altman said of Young and Cook. “... It’s all about the players, and these guys carried us this year.”

Cook, a junior forward who averages 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, said that wasn’t entirely true.

“Coach keeps saying it was on us to carry the ball, but we wouldn’t have been able to without him and his staff, so credit that,” Cook said. “They did a good job bringing us together and making us work hard.”

Assistant coaches Kevin McKenna and Tony Stubblefield have been with Altman since he arrived at Oregon, and Mike Mennenga joined the staff this season.

“We, as coaches, try to help them, but you have got to have guys who want to work with you and who are unselfish, giving up part of their game for the best of the team,” Altman said. “As I look back, E.J. gave us help to get the first one, we had a good group of seniors last year that wouldn’t quit and (Young and Cook) were part of that this year.

“We’ve always had guys to give the ball to and they carry it, and this year it’s those two guys.”

Oregon appeared to be on the outside of the tournament field for much of the season before winning 11 of its last 13 games to earn a No. 8 seed.

Young, one of three seniors on the roster, said Altman used fear of failure to motivate the team.

“He scared us,” said Young, who was named Pac-12 player of the year after averaging 20.2 points per game. “He said, ‘Do you want to be one of the teams playing at the end? Do you want to put your jerseys up or keep them out?’ We wanted to be one of those teams that keeps our jerseys out. That ran through our heads. We can’t put the jerseys up, can’t do it.”

Young scored 48 points and Cook added 28 in two NCAA Tournament games last season, and senior Jalil Abdul-Bassit and walk-on sophomore Theo Friedman played sparingly in the 87-68 victory over BYU in the second round. The rest of the Ducks will make their tournament debuts on Friday.

“I think that with me and Joe as the returning players who played in the NCAA, we have to bring energy and put an emphasis on how important it is,” Cook said. “Make sure our teammates are ready to compete for 40 minutes.”

Altman went to the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years as an assistant at Kansas State from 1987-89 and then as the Wildcats’ head coach in 1993. His Creighton teams made seven tournament appearances in 16 years, including five in a row from 1999-2003.

Now, he has taken Oregon to three tournaments in his first five years.

“I’ve been really fortunate,” he said. “In 29 years of Division I basketball, this is the 14th time we’ve been chosen to play. It never gets old. I’m as excited now as I was the first time in 1987. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to be included.

“... It’s special, and I want the guys to enjoy that. Elgin and Joe and Jalil experienced it once, but for everyone else it is the first time, so I wanted them to understand how unusual and special this was. I want them to soak it in and enjoy it, especially the freshmen. I told them, ‘Fellas, let’s get real selfish and have this feeling all the time.’ Soak it in to be motivation to do it every year.”

The Ducks are a slight favorite to defeat Oklahoma State on Friday. Win that game, and they would be an underdog against Wisconsin on Sunday.

“I’m not satisfied, but I’m pleased, and I have made that comment before,” Altman said. “Individually, I don’t want Joe to be satisfied with being the player of the year, I want him to want more. I don’t want Elgin to be satisfied with what he accomplished and how far he has come this year. I want them to be happy with what we accomplished and feel that we got something done, but in no way should we be satisfied.

“We can get better over the next two weeks or however long we play.”

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMims_RG . Email steve.mims@registerguard.com .