Oregon coach Dana Altman's quest to rebuild the Ducks into perennial NCAA tournament contenders has hit its first patch of turbulence.
Highly touted guard Jabari Brown, the centerpiece of Altman's 2011 recruiting class, has left the program just two games into his freshman season. Oregon temporarily removed Brown from the official roster on its website Sunday afternoon, but Altman told reporters in Eugene after an 86-61 victory over Southeast Missouri State that he hopes to persuade Brown to stay.
"I will say it up front, I don't want him to leave," Altman said. "The door is still open."
A 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Oakland, Calif., Brown considered Washington, Cal, Arizona State and UConn before selecting Oregon last year. Neither Brown's father, David, nor his coach at Oakland High, Orlando Watkins, immediately returned messages seeking comment on whether Brown might consider returning to Oregon and what his next step will be if he leaves.
If indeed Brown has played his final game at Oregon, that's a damaging loss for a Ducks team expected to finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 and challenge for an NCAA tournament spot this season. Brown led Oregon in scoring on its preseason trip to Italy this summer, but he averaged just six points on combined 3-for-11 shooting in the Ducks' first two games against Vanderbilt and Eastern Washington.
The replacement for Brown in Oregon's starting lineup Sunday was Johnathan Loyd, a 5-foot-8 sophomore who will now play alongside fellow point guard Garrett Sim. Reserve guards Bruce Barron and Brett Kingma will also almost certainly see more playing time.
Oregon jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead on Southeast Missouri State on Sunday and coasted to victory, but the Ducks will probably feel Brown's absence against more talented opponents. He was the most gifted perimeter scorer on a team that now will have to lean heavily on its deep frontcourt at least until Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph becomes eligible next month.