(Eds: Updated. With AP Photos.)By ANNE M. PETERSONAP Sports Writer
When the inevitable question about Kyle comes up, E.J. Singler is gracious. He praises the accomplishments of his talented older brother but is quick to note that he is his own man.
E.J. Singler has established an independent identity at Oregon, where the Ducks are in a scramble near the top of the Pac-12 standings.
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”I’ve always been thankful for my brother – he’s only helped me with my basketball – but I don’t try to live up to what he’s done, because he’s done some amazing stuff,” Singler said. ”We’re different. We’re different people. We’re paving our own ways.”
Singler, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, had 13 points in Oregon’s 82-57 victory over Washington on Thursday night at Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks (17-7, 8-4 Pac-12) are in a three-way tie for second place in the league standings with Arizona and Colorado. Washington and Cal, at 9-3 in conference, are knotted in first.
Oregon has won six of its last eight games with just six more left before the Pac-12 tournament March 7-10 in Los Angeles. Because the league is having an undeniably down year, it is possible that the conference champion will be the only representative at the NCAA tournament.
Singler has settled into a consistent and dependable role this season with the Ducks. He’s averaging a career-best 13 points and 5.5 rebounds in 24 games, all starts. He’s hit 81 of 91 (.890) free throws, ranking him second in the Pac-12.
”We move E.J. around,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. ”We play him in a lot of different spots. His basketball savvy’s pretty good and his versatility’s pretty good. He’s doing a great job for us on the boards.”
The season is another progression for Singler, who has started in 69 straight games in his career at Oregon. He’s averaged 10.1 points and 5.2 rebounds overall.
”I’ve really tried to put in a lot of work, and I’ve tried to really understand the game of basketball, I think that’s a big thing,” he said. ”Coming in as a freshman, I really wasn’t a scorer, I was a player that could just really fit in well and do a lot of little things.
”Now I’m growing. I continue to work on my game and expand it in areas I’ve been weak in. And I’ve tried to get that leadership role as well, both vocally and in my actions.”
Singler played football and basketball at South Medford High School. When the time came, he settled on hoops and went to Oregon after he was recruited by then-coach Ernie Kent. Last season, Kent was replaced by Altman, who coached 16 seasons at Creighton.
It’s only natural that Singler would be compared to big brother Kyle, who is considered one of the best prep basketball stars from the state of Oregon. Kyle Singler came out of the same class as Kevin Love, a standout from Lake Oswego High School who now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kyle was heavily recruited and ended up playing for coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. He was the 2010 Final Four MVP with the Blue Devils before becoming a second-round pick in last June’s NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
During the labor dispute, Kyle went to Europe and he now plays for Real Madrid. His decision to stay overseas when the lockout was over was questioned by some, but Kyle said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that he wanted to hone his skills and take the opportunity to live and play abroad.
The younger Singler said he thinks it’s great that Kyle is staying in Spain.
”I think it’s just been a great experience for him,” E.J. said. ”He loves it over there, and he loves the basketball. And he says he’s learning a lot.”
As for the Ducks, the younger Singler believes his team is much better than the overall record indicates. Coming off the dominating win over the Huskies, Oregon hosts Washington State on Saturday before traveling to Northern California next week for games against Cal and Stanford.
”We lost some games that we should’ve put away, but we didn’t. But we’ve got to learn from that and keep on pushing on,” Singler said. ”If we win at home for the rest of our games and we battle on the road, I think we’ll be in good shape.”