As just a sophomore, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard needs to become a leader
SAN FRANCISCO — After Oregon’s trip to the Final Four, there was a mass exodus of talented players. Most of it was expected, but losing four starters and eight total lettermen still hurts.
Point guard Payton Pritchard is the only starter who returns for the 2017-18 season. While players were leaving Oregon, there was a popular internet meme from the television show “the Fresh Prince of Bel Air” where Will Smith is looking around an empty room in his house.
Somebody photoshopped Payton Pritchard’s head onto Will Smith’s body with the caption “Payton Pritchard down there in Eugene like…”
Pritchard is only a sophomore, yet he is the Ducks’ top returning player in all statistical categories except blocks. He not only needs to fill the void on the court left by players like Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey, but also the leadership void they left.
“I knew, maybe, during the season that that was coming,” Pritchard said. “For me, just this offseason, I’ve been preparing.”
So how does he grow into a leadership role?
It’s a trait that’s been in the cards with Pritchard. During his sophomore year of high school, Pritchard was selected to scrimmage Team USA Under-18 squad in Portland, Oregon, that included players like Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones.
Pritchard played well against guys projected to be first-round NBA draft picks, a confidence booster for a young player.
“Obviously all that stuff helps, but my confidence has always been there.” Pritchard said. “I think my confidence comes from the hard work. That’s where I get all my confidence — all the hours, having no fear.”
Pritchard has always been confident. He took Casey Benson’s starting point guard job last season and never shied away from big moments.
But becoming the leader of an entire team is a big task.
“When you set your standards very high and try to achieve those standards, there’s always going to be some anxiety, and he experienced that last year, I think, because of the unknown,” head coach Dana Altman said. “But this year, I think he’s a little more comfortable. We are expecting more from him in the ways of leadership.”
Pritchard does not feel like he needs to change his game on the court to account for the loss of key players, just a little off the court.
Last season, Pritchard was a good distributer who needed to spark the offense when it was slow. He wasn’t the primary scorer, and although he feels like he’s improved his finishing at the rim and outside shooting, he doesn’t want to change his game entirely.
“I feel like leading by example is just doing your job,” Pritchard said. “Being a leader is doing your job but you’re also looking out for other people. You’re helping them do their job better. That’s the thing about being a leader. You’re not just worried about yourself, you’re worried about everyone else, to know that they’re on the same page.”
Pritchard has been thrust into this role, but he’s worked to be in this position and wants to own it. After all, it’s a product of hard work.
“Yeah it’s odd, but at the same [time], I’m not going to say I don’t like it,” he said. “You know what I mean? I want to be in this position, so at the same time I’m okay with it.”
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917