How Dana Altman is keeping his team’s spirits lifted in 2020 originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest
This year is a mental strain on a ton of people.
The list goes on and on: the coronavirus pandemic; social injustice issues; the Presidential election; murder hornets; etc.
As a collegiate athlete, each game is a toss up whether it’s going to be played or not. The non-conference schedule for both men’s and women’s basketball is yet to be scheduled and announced and the season is supposed to begin on November 25. Just about three weeks away.
Two weeks ago, Oregon women’s head coach Kelly Graves spoke to the local media over Zoom. He spoke honestly about keeping a light-hearted mentality and making things fun for the team while balancing hard work and dedication throughout this time. Teams can’t even really bond during this preseason because of the ongoing pandemic. In a normal year, both teams would be knee-deep in non-conference play by this time.
Not knowing when or who or really if you’re going to play is mentally tough and Graves is doing what he can to lighten the mood.
On Thursday, men’s head coach Dana Altman explained his approach during this time:
“The thing that lifts our guys spirits more than anything is being on the court. Other than the two, three hours we’re on the court, our staff is pretty light-hearted the way it goes. We meet the guys every morning for breakfast and talk to them about their days.
We try to stay in touch with our guys to let them know we’re here but I found the place where most guys relax the most and are themselves the most is when they’re on the court.
Oregon men's basketball coach Dana Altman
“That’s one thing that I think has really been hard on all young people is just being together and following their passion and not being able to do that. When we weren’t able to go in the gym - March, April, May, June, July - that’s when I was really worried about our guys.”
Social distancing is difficult to do when you’re apart of a team: no locker room access which means no bonding over film, video games, food, etc. Thus the era of Zoom was born and now the means of communicating outside of practice.
Altman, with a smile, is no friend to technology.
“I’ve found - the Zoom - they [the team] just laugh at me when I try to get on there and do something from there.”
We’ve all been there coach, don’t worry.
But Altman and the Ducks are doing the best they can given the circumstances and, like most of us today, just focusing on controlling what they can control. Things like leaving the gym lights on.
“I’ve found that the best and the most relaxed and I think the most comfortable our guys are is to get them on the floor as much as possible and to keep the gym open as much as possible so they can work on their own…
“They don’t worry about all that stuff that’s going on - the election, the social injustice, all those things - I think when they’re on the floor for those two or three hours, that all disappears. It’s just about getting better and figuring out a way to be the best they can be and follow their passion.”
The Ducks are just about three weeks away from hopefully non-conference play. Altman said the program is still waiting on contracts and “rounding out” non-conference opponents, but likely Eastern Washington, Montana, and Portland State are opponents that have all said that they would travel to Eugene, Oregon to play the Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena.
Those contracts should be signed “soon” whenever that may be.
For now, here is Oregon's Pac-12 schedule starting on Saturday, December 12: