The University of Oregon men’s basketball team played its first season in 1902–03 with Charles Burden as the head coach. Only two games were played that season with Oregon losing both games. Oregon did not record a win until its fourth season in 1907 against Roseburg. The season ended with a winning record of 4–3, under Hugo Bezdek, who also coached the football team. Bezdek left after that season to coach at Arkansas until 1913 when he went back to Oregon to coach until 1917.
During Bezdek’s absence, the basketball team was coached largely by William Hayward, Oregon’s track coach. In 1923, William Reinhart took over as the head coach and remained through the erection of McArthur Court until 1935. Coach Reinhart suffered only one losing season at Oregon.
The Tall Firs
Howard Hobson, an alumnus of the university, became the head coach in 1935, following Reinhart’s departure.His ideas were considered cutting edge during his years at Oregon and he was well ahead of his time. He ran a fast break offense little used by anyone else in the country at the time and his defenses were an unorthodox hybrid defense. He lobbied for the installment of a shot clock and three-point field goal years before they were first introduced. In 1939, the Oregon Ducks became the first team to win the NCAA Basketball Championship. Sports editor L. H. Gregory coined the phrase “Tall Firs” to describe the Oregon players due to their taller stature compared to other teams in the country. The season started with a long trip to the east coast for a series of games, ending with a loss to Stanford back west inSan Francisco. The Ducks went 6–3 during that trip but gained valuable experience for the remainder of the season. Oregon went 14–2 to claim the North Division title in the Pacific Coast Conference, which set off a best-of-three playoff against the California Golden Bears. The Ducks won two games straight to claim the conference title.
The Ducks returned to San Francisco for the NCAA regional series where they defeated the Texas Longhorns in the first game 56–41 then the Oklahoma Sooners 55–37. The Ohio State Buckeyes had defeatedWake Forest and Villanova in their regional series to earn their right in the championship game. On March 27, Oregon and Ohio State squared off to claim the national title. Oregon emerged victorious to claim the first NCAA national championship trophy, defeating Ohio State 46–33.
The years following the Tall Firs consisted of an eclectic mix of up and down years, with more down than up. Oregon returned to the NCAA playoffs only twice, in 1960 and 1961 under head coach Steve Belko. Those were the days when only one team from the Pac-8 made it to the NCAA Tournament. One of Belko’s stars was Stan Love, a gifted shooter and rebounder, who led the Pac-8 in scoring for two straight seasons. Stan Love is the father of current NBA star Kevin Love. In 1971, head coach Dick Harter arrived at Oregon and achieved some consistency with the program. The players under Dick Harter were dubbed the Kamikaze Kids, known for their hard play, diving for loose balls, and swarming defense. They were also credited for inspiring the intimidating atmosphere at McArthur Court. Although the Kamikaze Kidsnever earned any championships, they were not without accomplishments. They assembled two 20 win seasons, appeared in three straight NITs, and upset #1 ranked UCLA in 1974.
After Dick Harter’s first season, he never had a losing season at Oregon. He left in 1978 and the Ducks slid, suffering five consecutive losing seasons. Oregon made an appearance in the NCAA tournament in 1995 under head coach Jerry Green but have otherwise accrued largely mediocre records.
Ernie Kent era
In 1997, Ernie Kent was hired to fill the vacancy at head coach left by Jerry Green. Ernie Kent, one of Dick Harter’s Kamikaze Kids, built teams that somewhat resembled the days of the Kamikaze Kids with its up-tempo style of play. In his third season as head coach, he took the Ducks back to the NCAA tournament where they fell in the first round. In 2002, Kent led the Ducks to their first conference championship since 1945, going through the regular season undefeated at home. They earned a number 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament that year and advanced to the Elite Eight by defeating Montana, Wake Forest andTexas. They were eliminated by Kansas and finished the season with a number 11 ranking in the AP Poll.
Luke Ridnour was selected as the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2003 as the Ducks won the Pac-10 tournament, defeating the USC Trojans in the conference championship game 74–66. The Ducks entered the NCAA Tournament as an 8 seed and lost to Utah in the first round 58–60.
Oregon made a Final Four appearance in the NIT in 2004 but otherwise made little impact until 2007. Oregon swept its 12 intersectional games to start 2007 and upset #1 ranked UCLA in the third Pac-10 game. The Ducks finished the regular season with a 23–7 record and defeated Arizona, California, and USC to win the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament. The Ducks earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight by defeating Miami (Ohio) 58–56, Winthrop 75–61 and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. On March 25, played and lost to the eventual NCAA National Champions, the Florida Gators, by a score of 77–85.
Oregon was considered the favorite to land Class of 2007 high school stars Kevin Love and Kyle Singer, widely considered to be the greatest high school players to ever come out of Oregon. In the summer of 2005, Love and Singler dropped Oregon from their list because of the turmoil inside the Oregon team, centering around the moral allegations concerning coach Ernie Kent. Love eventually chose to attend UCLA and Singler chose Duke.
The Ducks were selected as a No. 9 seed in the 2008 NCAA Tournament in the Southern Region. They lost to No. 8 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs in first-round play on March 21, 2008, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
On March 15, 2010, the university announced that the decision had been made to fire Ernie Kent as a result of poor performance in the previous two seasons, placing 9th and 10th in conference in the respective years. Kent departed as the longest tenured Pac-10 coach and winningest coach in school history with 235 wins.
In April 2010, Dana Altman from Creighton University was hired to replace Ernie Kent after a month long search. Altman led the Ducks to a CBI championship in his first year at Oregon and led the Ducks to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament during the 2012–13 season. Altman led the Ducks back to the NCAA Tournament in the 2013–14 season where they defeated BYU but fell to Wisconsin in the round of 32. It was their 12th NCAA tournament appearance and was the first time Oregon won tournament games in back to back seasons in program history.