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Naismith Contender: Dillon Brooks is the go-to guy for Oregon

Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

When Dillon Brooks signed with Oregon as a member of the Class of 2014, not many people pegged the Ontario, Canada, native as the next face of the Ducks’ program. He was a four-star recruit to be sure, but not a lot was known about him since he didn’t come from one of the elite American schools.

If Brooks had played in California or Texas, he would have been one of the stars in the recruiting circles.

After two stellar seasons in Eugene, not only is Brooks the face of the program and coach Dana Altman’s best player, he’s in position to do something no one would have thought possible … to lead the Ducks to their first Final Four in 78 years.

If he’s able to do that, Brooks will become a bigger star in the world of Oregon sports than Marcus Mariota.

However, it won’t be easy.

Brooks is dealing with a foot issue that could keep him out of much of the non-conference schedule. Luckily for the Ducks, the roster is talented and deep enough that missing Brooks won’t mean they’ll have a particularly difficult time, but they’ll want him back on the floor as soon as possible.

Oregon is about to find out how it’s going to be without its star small forward when they play good teams. The non-conference schedule isn’t filled with cupcakes.

“We have a number of very difficult ball games in November, probably by far the toughest November we’ve had in the seven years I’ve been at Oregon,” Altman said at Pac-12 media day. “If it were without Dillon [then] the other guys are going to have to step up. Last year we were very fortunate. Casey Benson really stepped up, as did Tyler (Dorsey) when Dylan Ennis went down with his injury. We were a little shorthanded at the guard spots with the ball-handlers, and I thought both those guys did an exceptional job of stepping up.”

With Brooks gone for a month, Altman is going to look to Dorsey to carry more of the load than originally expected. He also hopes that Dorsey experiences the same improvement Brooks did from freshman to sophomore year.

As a freshman, Brooks averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds per game. He was also very inconsistent, as most freshmen are, and Brooks would sometimes let his emotions get the better of him. He would let one bad call affect him on the next few possessions, which of course were a detriment to his team.

As a sophomore, Brooks learned to channel his emotions to make him play even better and take over a lot of games. He led the Ducks with nearly 17 points a game and he managed nearly 5.5 boards and Brooks was the team’s top assist man with 119 dimes on the season.

Oregon’s best small forward since Luke Jackson seems to save his best performances for the biggest of games. Brooks scored 30 points against Utah last season and scored 25 against St. Joe’s in the second Round of the NCAA tournament and then burned Duke for another 22 points, five rebounds and six assists in the Ducks’ most important win in the Altman era.

11 March 2016: Oregon (24) Dillon Brooks celebrates after sinking a three pointer during the men's Pac-12 Basketball Tournament game between the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

11 March 2016: Oregon (24) Dillon Brooks celebrates after sinking a three pointer during the men’s Pac-12 Basketball Tournament game between the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

If Dorsey can improve almost as much this year, the Ducks will be all right until Brooks gets back, and then they’ll have two explosive threats that will be too much to handle for most teams. Oregon is already a deep team, but when Brooks comes back, it’ll be like having the Yankees sign the best free agent on the market to an already great team.

“Our guys have worked pretty hard the first 10 practices that we’ve had. I like their effort. I like the group that we have this year,” said Altman.

“We’re a little bit deeper, a little bit more experienced than we’ve been in the previous couple of seasons, so a lot of expectations for our guys, which is great. I hope our guys can continue to work hard, play unselfishly and have a great season.”

A great season in Eugene is contending for a conference championship and then making a huge run in March, but none of that will happen if Oregon puts Brooks on the floor before his foot is 100 percent. Fortunately for the sake of everybody who’s involved, Altman knows it and won’t take any unnecessary chances.

“It is a different position for our team to be in. I think it’s something that our guys will have to learn to adjust how hard people are going to come after them,” Altman said. “Not only within the league, but the projections on a national scale. We’ll have our non-conference opponents fired up to play against us. So, it will be an adjustment our team will have to make. I’m interested to see how they’ll handle it. Because the demands and the preparation will have to be different.”

The demands of the players will be different, but the Ducks will be a different and even better team once Brooks is back.

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