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Canzano: Oregon Ducks should welcome the Bronny James show
Does Dana Altman want the headache?
Count me among those surprised that Bronny James did some talking this week as part of the Nike Hoop Summit. The media team at USA Basketball didn’t let it get out of hand on Thursday, but it was nice to hear the kid’s voice.
LeBron James’ son has scholarship offers from USC, Ohio State and Memphis. There’s some speculation that he could land at Oregon, too. Bronny has already signed with Nike. Oregon would make sense. Also, fellow Team USA players such as Ducks-commit Jackson Shelstad spent this week lobbying him.
“It’s good to know that they want me there with them,” Bronny told reporters on Thursday, “but at the end of the day, it’s my decision, and I gotta make the right one for me.”
Lindsay Schnell, a reporter for USA Today, asked a follow-up question. She wanted to know when Bronny will announce his college choice. After all, his family, including LeBron, are expected to be in attendance on Saturday at Moda Center.
Bronny started to answer. He wanted to talk. But one of Bronny’s handlers heard the question and nudged the event’s media representative, who promptly shut the whole thing down.
“I think we can move on to questions about USA Basketball and the Hoop Summit,” the PR rep said.
The big question today isn’t for USA Basketball or Bronny. It’s for Oregon men’s basketball coach Dana Altman. Because when we last heard from Altman he was in a somber mood, disappointed with the end of his team’s season and lack of energy inside Matthew Knight Arena.
The Ducks didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament. There were only 3,300 fans present for the program’s final NIT game. Altman was frustrated with attendance, his season, and his athletic department.
Is the juice worth the squeeze?
That’s become the question to ask when it comes to Bronny James. The last four years he’s played at Sierra Canyon High School. Those who have frequently seen him on the court tell me he’s a good passer, motivated defender and hard worker.
I like all of that.
“But he’s not his father,” they usually say.
Neither was Frank Sinatra Jr. But I’d listen to him sing, too.
Bronny is five inches shorter than his 6-foot-9 dad. He’s not going straight from high school to the NBA like his father did. There’s no guarantee Bronny is even good enough to start — or get meaningful minutes — as an underclassman for a major college program. But is the college coach who lands LeBron’s son really going to sit him on the bench? With mom, dad and Nike watching?
The public relations sideshow that accompanies Bronny has been present since middle school. It includes body guards, documentary film camera crews and a team of publicists. A couple of months ago, I asked Eric Sondheimer, the long-time prep reporter at The Los Angeles Times, about Bronny.
Sondheimer has seem all the area greats. He covered Southern California legends such as Darryl Strawberry, Gilbert Arenas, Brett Saberhagen, Steve Kerr, and John Elway, among others.
So what’s Bronny like?
“I couldn’t tell you,” Sondheimer said. “They won’t let anyone talk with him.”
When Bronny was at Brentwood School in eighth grade, Sondheimer went to see him play. He sat in the stands and pulled out his phone to capture some video footage. One of the handlers saw it and came over.
“You can’t take video,” the handler said.
None of this is Bronny’s fault. His parents are just trying to do what they think is best. I can’t imagine it’s easy to have Hall of Fame expectations walk into the gym with you. I suppose the security team and documentary crew will follow him to college. And I’m only bringing all this up because it demonstrates the complexity involved.
Does the 64-year-old Altman want that headache?
Particularly in the wake of last season?
It’s a tricky one for Oregon. Phil Knight is close with LeBron. The Nike founder sat courtside, alongside James’ sons, earlier this season when the Lakers’ star eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and became the league’s all-time leading scorer. So some of this may be out of Altman’s hands.
Still, Oregon should sign on for it.
There’s a ton of upside. UO handled having Bol Bol around. This wouldn’t be Altman’s first circus. And I suspect the buzz that accompanies Bronny might generate some much-needed program enthusiasm.
The great irony is that Bronny’s talent level reminds me a little of Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks. They were solid players, too. Less-heralded talents who stuck around for multiple seasons at UO, worked hard, and raised the profile of the program. The sideshow aside, Bronny could be that kind of player as an upperclassman.
That is, if he stays for more than a season, right?
USC is much closer to home. Ohio State and Memphis are both high-tier Nike schools. But if the plan is to put Bronny on a college campus and allow him be as close to a “normal” college kid as possible, Eugene isn’t a bad choice.
He’d have Nike close.
He said he likes the weather.
His parents would be a short flight away.
Altman already has Shelstad, who is going to be a star and contribute right away. He also has Mookie Cook, a 6-foot-7 small forward, with sky-high expectations. It’s hard to get a feel for Bronny James given how insulated he’s been, but I think there’s interesting upside here for Oregon.
I liked hearing Bronny talk a little this week. He sounded like a nice kid. I can’t imagine the pressure he’s endured. It can’t be easy, but it’s his life.
When I last spoke to Altman he sounded focused on fortifying his roster through the transfer portal. He pointed out that most of the teams that played deep into the NCAA Tournament had 24-year-olds competing against 20-year-olds.
“We’ve got to find competitors,” Altman said.
Bronny doesn’t fit the win-now strategy. He’d be a long play for the 64-year old coach. I suspect it’s why we haven’t heard about or seen a full-court recruiting press from the Ducks. I wonder, too, whether Altman has even talked 1-on-1 with Bronny.
It’s been a frustrating couple of seasons for Oregon’s coach. He missed the NCAA Tournament. His roster chemistry has been clunky. Fans are growing impatient. Two seasons ago, at the height of the aggravation, a donor sent Altman a case of wine.
I suspect Tylenol may be delivered next.
Take two and see how you feel, coach.
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