N'Faly Dante will be a centerpiece for Oregon in the Ducks' final Pac-12 season

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's upcoming season got a boost back in April when center N'Faly Dante announced he'd be returning for his fifth season with the Ducks.

Dante will lead a team that struggled with injuries last season then saw a number of key departures in the offseason. Dante was an exception, announcing on social media he was staying put.

Dante averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season. He had career highs for points, with 415, and rebounds, with 260.

The Ducks finished 21-15 overall for the program's 13th straight winning season. They went 12-8 in Pac-12 play. In the postseason, Oregon advanced to the NIT quarterfinals before losing 61-58 to Wisconsin.

“I want to win more games. So I just want to do the things to change what we left out there. When I first came here, we were a good team. So I gotta bring that back,” said Dante, a 7-footer from Mali. “I will do anything to get it back.”

Ducks coach Dana Altman will also lean on senior guard Jermaine Couisnard, who was among those who suffered injuries that impacted the Ducks last season.

Couisnard missed the first 14 games because of a knee injury then sat out of the NIT because of a shoulder injury. He averaged 12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the 19 games he played.

Couisnard announced during last season's Pac-12 tournament that he'd be returning to the Ducks.

“Jermaine and Dante, if they stay healthy and can lead us, I like both their work ethics. They’re both very coachable. Both of those guys can set a tone for our team. And I think both of them are going to have big years," Altman said.

Despite he excitement over embarking on a new season, Pac-12 media day was bittersweet for Altman because next year the Ducks will move to the Big Ten. Altman is entering his 14th season with the Ducks and is the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12.

“As a coach, I’ve been in the league the longest, and so it probably means a little bit more to me that the league is not going to be here. I have always really liked the league. I thought it was really competitive, even in years that people said our league was down, I don’t think it was,” Altman said. “So from my perspective, I’m disappointed. I’m excited at the same time because now we've got new challenges ahead of us and that keeps you going.”

WHO IS GONE

On the court, the biggest absence will be guard Will Richardson, who ran out of eligibility after playing a program-record 148 games with the Ducks. Richardson struggled with injuries but averaged 12.2 points last season.

“Will was with us for five years and we won a couple of conference championships, a tournament championship, a couple of Sweet 16s, so he was a big part of our program,” Altman said.

The Ducks also had six players that transferred out of the program.

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

Oregon has seven new scholarship players and five returnees.

One of the most promising newcomers is 6-foot-9 freshman power forward Kwame Evans Jr. out of Montverde Academy in Florida. The five-star recruit was part of the school's 2022 national championship team.

Also new to the team is freshman wing Mookie Cook, an Oregon native who attended Compass Prep in Arizona. Cook was held out of preseason workouts because of an ankle injury and is expected to miss the start of the season.

“I can’t just pick one of them because like I see all of them in the gym all the time. They’re working hard," Dante said. “So sometimes I’ll just ask myself, 'They are in the gym a lot, so I gotta go more than they do.′ But all of them can help us for sure.”

STAFF SHAKEUP

Two of Altman's assistants departed in the offseason. Chuck Martin took a job with Kentucky and Armon Gates went to Oklahoma. Brian Fish, who last season held an executive role with the Ducks, moved to assistant coach, and Louis Rowe joined Altman's staff from South Florida. Mike Mennenga embarks on his 10th season as an assistant.

SCHEDULE

The Ducks open the season on Nov. 6 in Las Vegas against Georgia in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series tournament. They return home to host the Montana Grizzlies on Nov. 10. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Oregon will be in Florida to play in the Emerald Coast Classic. The Ducks open the Pac-12 season on Dec. 28 at home against USC.

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