Changing of the guards
New players could help keep the Ducks in national contention
EUGENE Ñ You can call him mini-Freddie, if you like. At 5-foot-10, James Davis has terrific athleticism, a sweet touch, great range on his jumper and the ability to break down his defender one-on-one just like Freddie Jones, the ex-Oregon star now playing for the NBA's Indiana Pacers.
Oh, and the alley-oop dunk?
'Oh, yeah, I can dunk,' Davis says. 'As soon as my ankle gets better.'
At some point, Davis wants to show his all-around game and break down the stereotype of him being one-dimensional Ñ a shooter who camps behind the 3-point line.
But why start now?
Davis, starting in the spot vacated by Jones, has been an incredible shooter for the ninth-ranked Ducks. He has taken 34 shots, and all but four have been from 3-point territory. He has made 15. Coach Ernie Kent will take a 50 percent 3-point shooter in his lineup any day.
The crowd at McArthur Court rises in anticipation every time Davis gets the ball behind the 3-point arc. Even on a fast break, he will pull up and shoot the '3,' usually with the coach's permission.
'We've all got the green light to shoot,' says Davis, a junior and a Portlander by birth who prepped at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash. 'Whenever you have that confidence in your corner É you get a good look and let it go.'
All eyes will be on the guards when Oregon plays Kansas at 12:30 p.m. Saturday Ñ the game will be broadcast on KOIN (6) Ñ at the Rose Garden. The Jayhawks will bring Jefferson High grads Aaron Miles and Michael Lee back to town, along with All-American candidate Kirk Hinrich.
The Ducks have two All-American-type players in Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson, with Davis playing alongside them.
And you might just see UO freshman guard Brandon Lincoln on the floor, going against either of his former Jeff teammates.
The guard play was what propelled the Ducks to the Pacific-10 Conference title last season.
Now, in the first post-Jones season, the Ducks are prepared to have Davis and junior college transfer Andre Joseph take his minutes, playing with Ridnour and Jackson.
It will take time for Joseph, a 6-2 guard who can shoot and defend, to adjust to the Pac-10 and develop in Oregon's team concept.
Davis, a third-year player, has slipped into the starting role with ease.
The Ducks love the 3-point shot, and nobody throws up more of them than Davis, who is averaging nearly 16 points a game.
The 3-pointer is a terrific weapon any time somebody can shoot 50 percent.
'I've been getting good looks and been spotting up,' Davis says. 'My teammates have been finding me in good situations. I've been in rhythm, so I'm going to shoot it.
Kent, he says, 'knows I'm a player, and I can do everything: pass, run the point guard every once in awhile. He knows we're all players, and we can all score. He doesn't look at me as just a shooter.'
Critics had contended that Davis couldn't play in the Pac-10 because of his height.
'I never listen to the critics, don't read the newspapers, don't get on the Internet,' he says. 'I don't care what anybody says.'
But playing time at Oregon, under Kent, has been predicated on defense. And so far Davis has done an admirable job.
Sure, there will be times when bigger guards post him up. Joseph can defend, too, if teams are taking advantage of Davis.
Davis has befriended Joseph, emphasizing teamwork more than competition for playing time.
'You never let it get personal,' Davis says.
Joseph 'is coming on,' Davis adds. 'It's kinda frustrating for him, coming into a new system and being from a JC where he was the go-to guy. To come and sit and learn the new system and to know everybody around you is just as good or better É you just ain't the man anymore. It's hard for everybody.
'You're already behind because you don't know the system. People already got the chemistry returning. I'm there to help him whenever I can. Same with Brandon Lincoln.'
Lincoln has been slow adjusting to college, especially when it comes to playing defense.
Kent opted not to redshirt Lincoln, hoping that the 6-4 guard could spell Ridnour at times and work in at shooting guard. Lincoln played six minutes in Saturday's 88-69 win over Pacific and none last week in an 86-77 victory over Cal-Northridge. He did have six points in 11 minutes against Grambling State in his debut as Oregon won 97-52.
'I've had to play way harder here,' he says. 'It's one of the hurdles I've had to get over Ñ get over the laid-back mode and start to get after it. Coach has been on me.'
Davis says of Lincoln: 'I see the mistakes he's making that I made, and I just tell him to stay confident and don't shut down or nothing. Just listen to what the coach has to say, use this year as something to build on. So when your sophomore year comes, you're already ahead.'