Cleaning house would have been the easy way to go. Jerry Green had seen it done during coaching changeovers at other universities.
And few college basketball programs seemed as much in need of a good housecleaning as the one Green inherited at Oregon three years ago.
At the time, the Ducks were coming off a 6-21 season in which they went a dreadful 2-16 in the Pacific-10 Conference and lost 10 games by more than 20 points. They had not won a conference road game in more than two seasons and they had not been ranked in the Associated Press poll in 16 years.
Yet, after accepting the school’s offer to succeed Don Monson, Green somehow sensed that a wholesale housecleaning wouldn’t fly with Ducks fans.
“Oregon is the kind of place where you just don’t go in and do stuff like that,” he said. “We could have come in and run everyone off, but we weren’t going to do that. We committed to the players that were here and they committed to us.”
And the union that was formed between Green and a ragtag flock of holdovers from the Monson era has blossomed into one of the most fruitful in the Pac-10.
The resurgent Ducks, ranked 17th in the nation, bring an 11-1 overall record into tonight’s matchup against Washington State in Friel Court. Their 3-0 league record is the best in the Pac-10 and they have won eight consecutive games since losing to Santa Clara 88-83 back on Dec. 13.
Among their victims are preseason Pac-10 favorite UCLA, George Washington and Notre Dame. And among their admirers is first-year WSU coach Kevin Eastman.
“Oregon is going to be a very difficult team for us to play,” Eastman admitted. “They have nine guys averaging 13 or more minutes, which is going to be a little bit like the Cal game - guys at the (scorer’s) table constantly.
“They put all kinds of pressure on you, just like Cal did. They have seven seniors on the team, they’ve been through the wars already and, more importantly, they’ve been in Jerry’s system for three years now.”
The Ducks showed signs of turning things around late last season when they won four of their last eight games to finish 10-17.
Their productive stretch run started with a road sweep of Washington and WSU, followed by an upset of Arizona State at home. They had Arizona down two points with less than a minute left before bowing 75-71 and went on to shock UCLA 80-79 in their regular-season finale.
That big finish, according to senior guard Orlando Williams, is what fueled this year’s quick start.
“A lot of people remember the UCLA game, that’s what sticks in their minds,” said Williams, a returning All-Pac-10 selection who is averaging 18.3 points a game, “but if they look a little bit further, they can remember that we played well against Arizona and beat ASU.
“It wasn’t just one isolated basketball game. We were playing well toward the end of the season last year and we felt that if we could just keep that momentum and work hard in the off-season, we could be very successful this year.
“And right now, this team is so confident and so comfortable we feel like we can beat anybody.”
Oregon will start four seniors and sophomore point guard Kenya Wilkins against WSU. Two of those seniors, 6-foot-6 forward Darryl Parker and 6-8 center Zach Sellers, are junior-college recruits brought on board by Green.
But the other two, Williams and 6-9 forward Jeff Potter, were recruited by Monson - as were 6-9 center Aaron Johnson and 6-6 forward Jordy Lyden, who are also among the nine key players Green shuffles in and out in order to keep fresh bodies on the floor at all times.
And all seem genuinely grateful for not having been put out to pasture when the coaching change came.
“Coach did a lot of research before he even talked to us,” Williams recalled of the first days after Green’s hiring. “He had watched us all on film, he knew what our strengths and weaknesses were and before he did anything else, he met with each one of us individually and gave us an idea of what he wanted us to do and what we could expect from him.
“He let us know from the beginning that he was going to keep us all around and that he planned to get the best out of our capabilities. And right now, we’re above and beyond what I expected.”
Williams is quick to credit Green’s recruiting, as well as his loyalty, to the Ducks’ shockingly swift progress.
“When he first got here, I really had no idea what to expect,” Williams said. “But after the first recruiting class he brought in, there was new hope, because the talent he brought in was exceptional.
“And after that first year, I just knew - even though we hadn’t gelled yet - that all it was going to take was just one more year.”
Even Green didn’t expect things to happen that quickly.
“I didn’t,” he admitted. “You had hopes that you could be this successful, but what we tried to do - rather than look down the road three years - was just get better every day.
“Tradition isn’t changed in a year or half a year, it’s changed in several years. But you have to start somewhere.”
And it doesn’t always have to start in a clean house.
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