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Big men on bench keep hoping

Sweet 16 trip could be even sweeter for Ducks seeking time
by: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, Oregon’s Mitch Platt finds a bit of action in a game against Washington State, but after having sat out the last 15 games, he’d like to see much more.

Each game, almost without exception, Mitch Platt has planted himself next to the Oregon coaches on the bench. For 15 games, he stayed there, much to his dismay. “You want to play. It’s frustrating,” the 6-10 junior says. “But it’s also a good feeling, because we’re in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve come a long way since I first got here. I try to find ways to contribute and help out.” Many games, fellow reserve post Ray Schafer sits right next to Platt — if he can squeeze in. The 7-foot junior has sat on the bench for 14 games, and hasn’t been particularly thrilled about it. Being a trouper and a good teammate and practice player, he says, “it’s the only pride I can take right now.” The two arrived in 2003-04, with coach Ernie Kent saying each could develop into a Pac-10 starter. This season Platt has played in 20 games, averaging 7.0 minutes; Schafer has played in 21 games, averaging 5.7 minutes. Combined, they’ve tallied 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Since the Ducks got on their roll eight games ago, the two have played 23 total minutes. One wonders why Kent cannot get either to contribute more. Certainly, the Ducks have played great without them, advancing to the Midwest Regional game tonight against UNLV in the Sweet 16. The Ducks have used their small lineup —including starting post 6-9 Maarty Leunen and reserve frontcourt players 6-6 Joevan Catron and 6-8 Adam Zahn — to great effectiveness. It was part of the plan to go small, but Kent simply says that neither Platt nor Schafer has made enough of an impact to go big. The Ducks like to play fast, shoot jumpers and slash to the hoop … and the big men would have trouble keeping up. Leunen is a complete player. Zahn is a physical player. Catron is a thick freshman who hustles, rebounds and possesses some fine post moves. Kent talked last summer about wanting to get Platt back into the flow. The Henderson, Nev., native redshirted last season after foot surgery the season before. Platt started 46 games in his first two years before the surgery; it’s been a tough adjustment coming back, he says. So, Platt sits on the bench and tries to help coaches with post strategy. “They get excited and caught up in asking each other questions,” he says. “I try to stay in their ear.” If he gets playing time against an opponent’s bigs, he tries not to make mistakes. Next year, maybe Platt will find a role and get more playing time. He plans to return for his senior season, even though he finished work toward his degree this week. Kent says Schafer has much more talent than Chris Christoffersen, the starting center on the 2001-02 Elite Eight team. It took Christoffersen until his senior year to “figure things out,” Kent says. Schafer has grown tired of being Leunen’s practice dummy. The Ducks will have physical, 6-8, 260-pound Franz Dorsainvil next year, and Kent wants Schafer to make consistently smart plays. More than once, Kent has made reference to the Ducks never knowing which Ray will show up. “We were told by coaches to be ready, and we were,” Schafer says. “Mitch and I have been ready every game. When our number is called, it’s a matter of proving it.”