Kelly Graves says Ducks’ culture paved way for successful and enjoyable season
Oregon won’t have to worry about a team trip to Disneyland anytime soon. The 2015-16 season brought the roller coaster experience to Eugene.
The Ducks won their first 11 games, lost their first five to open Pac-12 play, then won eight of 10 before losing the final three games. Then came the WNIT, in which Oregon won four games before losing in the semifinals. All in all, Oregon finished 24-11 and sixth in the Pac-12 — one win shy of tying the school record.
“It was like Disneyland,” second-year Ducks head coach Kelly Graves told the Emerald. “We were a roller coaster of emotion, success and failure. We had a little bit of everything.”
The WNIT run helped the Ducks conclude the season on a positive note. After seniors Jillian Alleyne and Jordan Loera suffered season-ending knee injuries during the week of Feb. 22, Oregon looked out of sorts.
“The 24 wins and the way we played,” Graves paused, “I can honestly say we got as much out of this group as we possibly could have — it’s great. Everybody on the team felt that to some degree too. Sure we always wanted to win more, but given our circumstances and the way everything shook out at the end, I really, truly believe this team maximized potential.”
Last season, the Ducks finished 13-17 and tied for ninth in the Pac-12 in a “culture building” year.
“The year before, laying the ground work, helped us tremendously to the success we had this year,” Graves said.
Oregon had a few players finish the season in the top 10 of the NCAA’s statistical categories. Alleyne ranked No. 2 with 13.6 rebounds per game and No. 6 in field goal percentage at 58.5 percent. Lexi Bando shot 45.3 percent from 3-point range, helping the Ducks finish No. 1 overall nationally (42.1 percent).
Graves said a donor approached him last week at the athletic department’s annual scholarship dinner.
“One of our most important donors said, ‘It was really fun to see the smiles on their faces this year,'” Graves said. “I can be tough sometimes — there’s no doubt — but I think they genuinely know I care about them, so kids can take that kind of coaching. It was nice to hear people say, ‘I love the smiles.’ As a coach, that’s what we strive for.”
Although he didn’t recruit many of the departing seniors, Graves said they’ll be remembered as the class that bridged the past with the future.
“I didn’t get to coach them for that long, but they made a real impact on my life,” Graves said.
Graves promoted Mark Campbell to the program’s associate head coach this past season. He proved to be instrumental in assembling the incoming recruiting class, which ranked No. 7 nationally last fall.
“He’s incredible,” Graves said of Campbell. “He’s completely invested in Oregon women’s basketball. It’s incredible how hard he works. He’s the whole package.”
The incoming recruiting class will bring six players to Eugene this summer. Graves said a few of the signees could earn USA Basketball invites as well.
He announced that the team will travel to Europe for a preseason tour in late August and compete in a tournament in Hawaii around Thanksgiving.
“With two redshirts in Justine Hall and Megan Trinder, we’ll have eight new players,” Graves said. “We’re still chasing one more. We have another scholarship to give. We’ll have eight or perhaps nine new players next year. There will be new goals and new dynamics.”
Oregon hopes to use its success from the 2016 class as a springboard for the future.
“We’ve set a really high bar in the 2017 class,” Graves said. “It’s probably the smallest group of recruits I’ve ever had. We feel good about hopefully getting two in that class.”
Both Oregon State and Washington made the NCAA’s Final Four this year. Graves points to Washington, a team Oregon beat in Seattle, as an example: “We’re not that far off.”
After Graves’ second season in Eugene, things are turning in a positive direction.
“Now we’ve got expectations,” Graves said. “I think this is the ninth year out of 10 that I’ve won 24 or more. Last year was the only year. I always have those expectations. But now, the team, they’ve tasted it a little bit, and they realize this is what we strive for.”
Follow Jonathan Hawthorne on Twitter @Jon_Hawthorne
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