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UOs Wright will switch to PSU

Roderkus Le Charles Wright Ñ you can call him Rod Ñ is headed for Portland State.

Assuming he takes care of some academic deficiencies, the former reserve defensive end at Oregon will play for the Vikings next fall. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound San Diego native, who will be a junior, had 16 tackles and four sacks in nine games last season for the Ducks. He missed two games for violation of team rules.

'He is an NFL player,' says PSU coach Tim Walsh, who watched Wright firsthand in his team's loss at Eugene. 'He is big, extremely athletic, physical, and runs as fast as some wide receivers. He has special talents, and, in the dealings I've had with him, he has been nothing but a good guy.'

• James Finley, the receiver who signed with Oregon State last year out of Manual Arts High in L.A., is now an Oregon Duck. Coach Mike Bellotti says the Ducks received his letter of intent on Friday.

The 6-3, 195-pound Finley, one of the most highly touted prep pass catchers on the West Coast in 2002, failed to qualify academically at OSU. After recently retaking and passing the tests, he intended to re-sign with the Beavers until coach Dennis Erickson left for the San Francisco 49ers. That opened the door for other schools, including Oregon and Arizona State.

'One of the things I asked of my coaches when he did not go to Oregon State was, 'Where is James Finley?' Kind of like 'Where is Waldo?' ' Bellotti says. 'We coveted him. He's a great receiver.'

OSU coach Mike Riley and receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander lobbied to keep Finley. Riley called the receiver shortly after being hired on Feb. 20, and the two also spoke last week.

'We probably talked for a total of an hour, and the discussions were good,' Riley says.

With the departures of Keenan Howry and Jason Willis, Finley should have a chance to play right away for Oregon. 'He's aware of the opportunity,' Bellotti says. 'He's followed our program and knows several players on our team. Getting him here for spring would help tremendously.'

Riley, meanwhile, intends to hire his final assistant coach, who will handle special teams, by Friday. It will be either Dennis McKnight, who coached special teams for June Jones at Hawaii for two years and coached high school ball in San Diego last fall, or Jesse Williams from Colorado State.

• One of the former players implicated in the Fresno State basketball scandal was Dennis Nathan, one of the top talents to come out of the state of Oregon in the '90s.

Nathan, a first-team all-state choice as a senior at Gresham in 1997, put in stints at Clark College, Southern Idaho and Contra Costa (Calif.) JC before his one season at Fresno State (2000-01), where he averaged 5.6 points in 21 games.

A former Bulldog basketball statistician told the Fresno Bee he wrote and delivered 17 pieces of course work for three players, including Nathan, and was paid $1,500 for the work, a violation of school and NCAA regulations. Nathan also allegedly received credit for a correspondence course he never took.

Last week, the school's basketball team Ñ 20-6 at the time Ñ was banned from participation in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament or other postseason action.

Nathan, who is living in the Portland area, did not return phone calls from the Tribune.

• Two swimmers representing the Tualatin Hills Thunderbolts qualified for the 2004 Olympic trials at the American Short Course Swimming Championships in Austin, Texas, last weekend.

Westview High junior Jenna Patterson finished second in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, while Jesuit sophomore Kara Nelson placed 12th in the 100 butterfly.

Mary Patterson, Genna Patterson, Kara Nelson and Anne Liggett combined to set a national record (15-16 age group) in the 400 medley relay. Their time of 3:48.81 also broke the Oregon state record by 13 seconds.

• The San Diego Padres are optioning 14 players to the Portland Beavers today, including pitchers Dennis Tankersley and Ben Howard and second baseman Bernabel Castro.

Xavier Nady, who spent much of last season with the Beavers, has a good shot at being the Padres' left fielder on opening day. Veteran Phil Nevin will have surgery for a separated shoulder and will be out for at least a couple of months. That opens the door for Nady, 24, who was ticketed to start the year in Portland.