The previously ranked No. 2 Oregon Ducks will look different in the 2020-21 season without their Big 3 — Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard.
There are plenty of candidates in Eugene to be a part of the next Big 3, or maybe Big 5. The Ducks revamped their roster with five McDonald's All-Americans, all ranked in the Top 20, part of the No.1 recruiting class in the country. The Ducks had their first official practice last week and head coach Kelly Graves got to see his entire team live in action for the first time since March. There were many new faces but plenty of potential.
I got in touch with Graves to hear what he sees so far from his new-look team.
"I think consistency is going to be an issue, but I tell you I love the talent," Graves said. "We're as skilled as any team that I've ever had and certainly talented as any team that I've ever had. You add those five freshmen to two redshirt freshmen (and) two newcomers that are transfers. We have nine new people out there trying to learn what is a fairly intricate system with just four returners trying to show the way, so it's had some challenges."
All of Oregon's freshmen have brought a strong presence, but the two that have stood out the most are true-freshman TeHina PaoPao (pronounced Tuh-HEE-nuh Pow-Pow) and returning redshirt freshman Sedona Prince, who transferred from Texas.
"I think those two have a chance to be real stars, and boy wouldn't we love them to have the same kind of synergy and careers that Sabrina and Ruthy had together for four years," Graves said. "We'll see how that plays out, but right now, I've been very impressed with those two."
The Ducks are currently in the teaching phase of Oregon's system compared to previous years of knowing the system and adding new concepts. The veterans have stepped up and assisted in teaching the newcomers. Graves believes leadership will be one of Oregon's strengths.
Maryland transfer Taylor Mikesell, who Graves describes as a "gym rat," will also be expected to make an immediate impact. Graves includes Mikesell in Oregon's returners as she brings experience being the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and winning two Big Ten titles.
"When you couple [Mikesell] with Jaz Shelley and Taylor Chavez in the backcourt, two key contributors on our team last year for us," Graves said. "Those are three experienced guards that have played at a high level. Inside we have Erin Boley back, who has made true strides. She filled a roll for us last year, kind of that dead-eye perimeter player, but she's capable of doing more and she's showing that. And Lydia Giomi, who was a key component last year. We actually have five returning letter winners, who have played at a really high level."
Redshirt sophomore Nyara Sabally will also suit up after sitting out for two seasons due to knee injuries.
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"It's going to be a unique year, but I think in the end it's going to play out well for everybody," Graves said. "I believe that we're going to have an NCAA tournament. If we do, I hope to be there. I think we have the talent, experience and hunger to get there...I'm looking forward to this experience with this crew. I wouldn't want to be with anybody else right now."