Ducks' 7-2 center got serious; now NBA is serious about him
MADISON, Wis. Ñ A year ago, Oregon's Chris Christoffersen might have been the biggest nonfactor in college basketball, a 7-foot-2 center who played fewer than 10 minutes a game.
While other 7-footers were parlaying their size into millions, Christoffersen languished in obscurity. Entering the 2001-02 season, he had played in 58 games, starting none. He averaged 1.9, 3.0 and 3.3 points in consecutive years.
The Duck coaches leveled with Christoffersen: Shape up, get serious about basketball, and help us, or not only will you anchor the bench next to buddy Kristian Christensen, but we also will look elsewhere for a center Ñ and maybe rush talented Australian Ian Crosswhite into action.
The Big Dane went to Pete Newell's camp for big men, sneaked into McArthur Court to play midnight hoops with the other Ducks and emerged this season as a factor.
Oregon's Big Three of Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson and Freddie Jones have starred on the perimeter; big Chris has clogged the middle on defense, set some bruising picks, averaged eight points and six rebounds and É realized some potential.
What to expect?
In tonight's NCAA Sweet 16 game against Texas, Christoffersen could really help the Ducks Ñ or at least not really hurt them. He has a size advantage on nearly every other college center, but his slow feet and rough edges still hold him back.
Literally, the Ducks do not know what Christoffersen will provide tonight in Madison, or even Sunday, should the Ducks advance to play either Illinois or Kansas in the Elite Eight. All the Ducks know is that Christoffersen can be an offensive threat and a defensive detriment to the other team.
If he can be either, or both, Christoffersen will be happy.
'It's been a good year, with the team being on,' says Christoffersen, who prepped in Ojai, Calif., after moving from Denmark. 'That's what I wanted. I don't care about the stats.'
In Oregon's first two tourney games, the quicker front lines of Montana and Wake Forest held Christoffersen in check, often with double-teaming defense. He scored nine points in the second half against Montana and seven in the first half against Wake Forest but did not put together complete games.
'If we get into a situation where we force it inside, it's hard on us,' he says. 'Then again, we're really good about thinking, 'Well, what's going to open up?' Like kicking it to the guy in the corner.
'I actually thought they'd bottle up the guards more and leave me and Rob (Johnson) open. If you concentrate down low, our guards will be wide open.'
Playing the way he knew
Christoffersen is limited offensively, needing the ball in the right spot to score. And, despite being 7-2, he doesn't block many shots.
Many people wondered if he could contribute this season.
'It's not something I worried about,' he says. And he knew what the critics were saying: 'It wasn't extra pressure on me. I had to play the game I knew how to play.'
Big centers often improve slowly, assistant coach Scott Duncan says.
'You never know when a player matures,' he says. 'It started with Chris maturing as a person and realizing what God-given ability he has, his size and how good he can be. Most importantly, he could see that, 'Hey, I'm pretty good.'
'And the NBA buzz around him,' Duncan adds, indicates that Christofferson can 'make something out of himself through the game of basketball.'
Christoffersen still has plenty to learn Ñ 'I've played the game for only six or seven years' Ñ but don't be surprised to see him selected in June's NBA Draft. As NBA executives know, you can't teach size.
'When this run is all said and done, I'll worry about getting back into some playing shape and see what I can do overseas or over here (in the NBA) if I'm lucky enough,' he says.