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Anne M. Peterson / Associated Press, Published November 10 2010

Bison mens basketball: Feeling Ducky, Oregon boasts new coach, new arena for fresh start

EUGENE, Ore. – The Oregon Ducks have a new coach in Dana Altman and a shiny new stadium nearing completion. But for now, that’s just the facade.

The Ducks are still dealing with fallout from last season, when the team went 16-16 before longtime coach and Oregon alum Ernie Kent was dismissed.

Four players transferred and Altman is dealing with a string of injuries before his official Duck debut – which is Friday against North Dakota State in its own tournament in Eugene.

“It will be a transition year for us,” he said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The faster Oregon moves forward, the better.

Before last season concluded there were reports that Kent had already been fired. The Ducks played in the Pac-10 tournament without comment. The school finally announced Kent’s 13-year tenure at his alma mater was over at an awkward news conference with then-athletic director Mike Bellotti.

It didn’t help that Oregon’s athletic program was in disarray. Shortly after Kent was ousted, Bellotti abruptly stepped down to take a job as a college football analyst with ESPN. Belotti’s departure became controversial after it was made public that he never signed a contract and was leaving the Ducks with a $2.3 million “golden parachute.”

That left Oregon searching for a new coach without a permanent AD in place – not exactly an ideal situation to attract a big name.

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith were said to be on Oregon’s wish list. Missouri coach Mike Anderson said the Ducks approached him, but he turned down the job.

Oregon settled the monthlong process by hiring Altman, the well-respected Creighton coach who signed a seven-year deal worth $1.8 million.

Altman had a 327-176 record in 16 seasons with the Blue Jays, and built a reputation as a savvy bench coach. Creighton had 11 straight 20-win seasons before going 18-16 last season.

Creighton went to the postseason 13 times in Altman’s tenure, including seven NCAA Tournament appearances.

Altman will split his first season between venerable McArthrur Court and the new $200 million Matthew Knight Arena, named after the son of Nike co-founder and Ducks booster Phil Knight.

The arena, which will seat some 12,500, is expected to open Jan. 13, when the Ducks host USC. The final game at Mac Court will be played on New Year’s Day against Arizona State.

How the Ducks will look this season is somewhat of a mystery.

The team lost four players to transfer and Michael Dunigan left the program to play in Israel amid concerns about his eligibility, which is under review by the NCAA.

And there’s several injuries. Junior forward Jeremy Jacob, arguably the team’s best player, had arthroscopic knee surgery and is expected to miss three to six weeks.

Inforum searchword: College basketball

Junior college transfer Tyrone Nared had a procedure to repair a heart flutter that appeared unexpectedly over the summer, but should be OK to play.

Guard Jay-R Stowbridge broke his nose and dislocated his thumb during an exhibition game, and it is not known when he will return.

At Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles, Altman said the team has 10 players on scholarship.

“On the positive side, the guys worked awfully hard. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them to prepare themselves for the year,” Altman said. “I’m confident that they’ll compete and give us great effort.”

Oregon was picked to finish last in the conference in the Pac-10 preseason media poll. The Washington Huskies were expected to finish first.