Altman philosophical about latest ‘obstacle’;Sports Columnist

Byline: George Schroeder The Register-Guard

A little more than three years ago, the bad news came in a

manila envelope, delivered as he stepped off the podium.

Dana Altman had just been introduced as the school’s new head

basketball coach. But after the

sudden and disturbing status update, he decided he’d rather go back


We don’t know how or when Altman got the news of Oregon’s


NCAA trouble. But you have to wonder

today if he’s feeling deja vu.

Like it’s Arkansas, all over again.

“Two totally different situations,” Altman said.

And they are, for a lot of reasons, but starting with this:

Altmanis committed to rebuilding the Oregon program. There’s no

going back.

But I bring up the past because suddenly, the job isn’t what he

thought he was signing up for; it’s just become a lot more


We don’t know what the NCAA will find as it combs through the

program’s recent past, from Michael Dunigan’s sudden departure for

an Israeli pro league to potential issues with other former


It might turn out to be nothing, though I doubt it. It could

turn into something big, and bad. Or something between. There’s no

way to know.

Which is why I feel for Altman.

Whatever happened at Oregon, let’s be clear on one point.

College hoops is a sordid business, and we should never be

surprised to hear of possible wrongdoing, but Altman has a

reputation as a straight arrow.

The Ducks’ new basketball coach isn’t a part of this


But he’ll deal with it anyway.

We already knew this would be a difficult transition.

The 2010-11 season has been written off as lost by many – though

not, we should note, by Altman.

He and his staff begin individual workouts today with nine

scholarship players. In a few days, they’ll conduct tryouts to find

some walk-ons to fill out the roster. In a few weeks, they’ll go

ahead and play the schedule.

“We’ll put the best team on the floor that we can,” he told me

Tuesday. “That hasn’t changed any.”

And it hasn’t changed because of the potential NCAA trouble.

Things were already bad, which is why someone suggested, in

light of the NCAA issues, that the school should self-impose a

postseason ban. Hey, maybe make it a three-year thing, retroactive

to the last two years. (On the bright side, though, at least there

aren’t very manywins to vacate.)

There’s not much funny about this mess, of course. Especially to


But it’s not the jokes that will hurt. Or probably even the

penalties, if and when they come.

It’s the whispers.

On Wednesday, the coach returned a call but declined comment.

It’sprobably exactly the right move.

He couldn’t say much of anything about the investigation. And

anything he said about the bad spot he’s been put in might come off

as whining.

So I’ll say it.

On Tuesday, speaking in generalities about the entire situation

– the player defections, and the resulting limited roster – Altman

was philosophic.

“We’re all judged by how we overcome obstacles,” he said. “This

isjust an obstacle we’ll have to overcome.”

And how large is the obstacle now?

Altman was out of town when we spoke, both days.

September is a critical time for basketball coaches to visit

recruits in advance of the November early signing period. Given the

depleted roster, Oregon’s current recruiting has greater urgency

than usual.

So the head coach was visiting homes, talking with moms and

dads, making his pitch: immediate opportunity for playing time.

“I think we’ve got a lot to sell,” he said. “We’ve just got to

do a good job selling it.”

But Altman is already hearing from parents who want to know

what’sgoing on with the NCAA.

That’s not going away until the NCAA finishes up (and we’ve all

seen, haven’t we, how that can take a while ). Until then, coaching

rivals will whisper warnings to kids and their parents, and there’s

no way Altman can provide satisfactory answers.

It’s not just another obstacle. It’s a roadblock.

Suddenly, it feels like Altman’s rebuilding job might take a lot

longer – and that’s without considering any sanctions that might

result from the whole mess.

Oregon appears to have acted quickly, asked the right questions,

then forwarded the information to the Pac-10 (and from there, to

the NCAA). Good. Cooperation is the only right course, anytime

there’s potential wrongdoing.

But given the challenges ahead of Altman, including the immense

pressure to produce a big winner that will fill seats in the new

arena,the school has an even bigger obligation to keep digging, and

then deal with any rule violations.

The new coach deserves the very best chance to succeed. Because

he’s committed, and there’s no going back.

E-mail Follow at