Canzano: Bronny James picks USC while Oregon goes in search of its future
Ducks want to get back to being... the Ducks
Bronny James committed to USC on Saturday.
No shock there.
Still, I immediately wondered if the University of Oregon exhaled — just a little — over the loss. Dana Altman has endured a couple of rocky seasons in Eugene. Ones laced with distraction and inconsistency. The Ducks just haven’t felt like the Ducks lately. That UO was viewed as a serious contender while never openly pursuing Bronny was curious, and maybe a little telling.
Was the juice worth the squeeze?
Remember, Altman complained about the lack of energy inside the arena in the season finale, a NIT defeat to Wisconsin attended by only 3,358 fans. He talked like a coach who wondered if he still belonged at UO. The following morning, Altman confessed that he regretted speaking out in frustration.
“I’m not leaving,” he told me, “unless they want me to.”
Be sure, the son of LeBron James would have added electricity to Matthew Knight Arena next season. Nike would have been thrilled, too. But in the end, potentially adding Bronny, his body guards, a documentary film crew, and an entourage felt like an uneasy proposition for a program that badly needs to focus.
In our candid conversation in March, Altman talked wistfully about former Oregon players such as Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and Dylan Ennis.
“Those guys weren’t as highly ranked as some others,” Altman told me, “but those guys were in the gym all the time.”
The Ducks coach shared a story about a highly recruited player from the last two seasons with me. Altman asked me not to share the player’s name, so I won’t. But the player asked to speak with Altman and said, “I want to be like Payton, coach. I want to play in the league. I’m every bit as talented as Payton.”
Then, the UO coach told the player that if he wanted to be like Payton Pritchard, he’d better get in the gym every morning at 6 a.m. in the offseason. Pritchard’s workout regime and work ethic are legendary. He dribbled with a weighted basketball until his hands bled in high school. While other college kids were sleeping off a hangover, Pritchard was in the gym, often alone, getting his shots up, conditioning, dribbling and lifting weights.
“Get in the gym three times a day like Payton,” Altman told the player.
“Do strength training every day like Payton,” the coach said.
“Focus on good nutrition like Payton,” he said.
The player left Oregon via the transfer portal not long after Altman handed him the blueprint for becoming an NBA Draft pick. That’s the world Oregon’s 64-year-old coach now finds himself working in.
Oregon’s 2023 class includes Kwame Evans and Portland-born Mookie Cook, two McDonald’s All-Americans. It also features guard Jackson Shelstad, who grew up in West Linn, emulating Pritchard’s workout routine and sitting courtside at his high school games.
Shelstad is listed as a four-star or five-star recruit, depending on who does the counting. I don’t think the kid cares, either way. Like Pritchard, he’s in the gym at 6 a.m. and will return your call when he can.
Bronny chose USC, not Oregon, in a decision that feels mostly uncomplicated. In Los Angeles, he can play basketball, go to college, become a global entertainment icon, and eat a meal at the family home.
He picked USC. Not for a future in the Big Ten, rather, because being the son of LeBron in LA gets you an all-access pass on the Warner Bros. lot.
Bronny is 18.
Remember “The Decision 3.0”?
His older, wiser father picked Los Angeles, too, as a free agent at age 33 in 2018.
LeBron didn’t just get a $153 million contract with the Lakers that summer. He and his business advisor, Maverick Carter, got regular lunches with entertainment executives and venture capitalists. Today, LeBron isn’t just a future Hall of Fame basketball player. He’s now the chairman of an entertainment and production company (The SpringHill Company) that is pushing toward a $1 billion valuation.
On Saturday night, LeBron told reporters how proud he was to see his son make a college decision. For a moment, the 19-time NBA All-Star sounded like nothing more than a proud father at a grad party.
“This is the first one out of the James gang to go to college,” LeBron said. “Obviously, his dad didn’t go to school. His mom didn’t go to college. I think my mom maybe stepped on campus for a little bit, maybe a community college or something. But she had my little ass running around so she couldn’t spend much time in the classroom.”
LeBron’s mother was 16 when he was born in Akron, Ohio. She raised him as single parent, virtually alone. That woman’s grandson is now going to USC on scholarship. Wrap your head around that. LeBron called Bronny’s college decision, “Very, very, very exciting. Very humbling. A great moment for our family.”
A win for USC, too?
The Trojans are well-coached and Bronny James is going to bring fans to the arena. USC coach Andy Enfield will now attempt to parlay Saturday’s commitment into something bigger. But I didn’t see or hear a lot of fretting in Eugene.
The Ducks knew Bronny James staying in Los Angeles made too much sense. They probably expected it. But also, I think Oregon desperately wants to get back to being Oregon again. Bronny wasn’t going to help on that front.
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One other point I would add - nobody's claiming Bronny is going to be anywhere near as good as his dad...might just be a very average player. Very average. It's not like the Ducks lost out on a top-flight recruit that could help them immediately.
Glad the circus is staying in socal.