Oregon basketball: Freshman stars carrying the Ducks in early going

With experienced players injured, freshman hoopers have had to step up to ensure the success of the Oregon men's basketball team.
Oregon guard Jackson Shelstad drives the ball up the court as the Oregon Ducks host the USC Trojans.
Oregon guard Jackson Shelstad drives the ball up the court as the Oregon Ducks host the USC Trojans. / Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA

The Oregon men’s basketball team is leaning heavily on its freshman phenoms while veterans like N’Faly Dante, Nate Bittle, and Jesse Zarzuela are out with injuries.

The Ducks are used to having fresh faces in the program turn into star players, but I wouldn’t say that they are used to those fresh faces being the stars themselves.

However, head coach Dana Altman had a stellar class of freshmen join his squad and his been able to flex their skills while his more experienced players have had to ride the bench.

Jackson Shelstad, a guard from right up the road in West Linn, has seen the court in 10 games and started in eight of them. He has had impressive offensive showings, averaging 14.9 points and 2.9 assists per game.

Shelstad was a 5-star recruit and also received an offer from Arizona State as well as Bryant, Cal Poly, and Eastern Washington.

Kwame Evans Jr., who fans are now speculating will be a one-and-done player, has shown the Pac-12 just why he was such a highly coveted prospect coming out of high school. He has started in 13 of the team’s 14 games this season.

Evans has averaged nearly 10 points a game while earning 6 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game, 1.93 steals per game, and 1.5 blocks per game.

The small forward was ranked 18th nationally by 247 Sports and had offers from all over the country, including Kentucky, Auburn, Arizona, and DePaul.

Shelstad and Evans combined for 43 points earlier this season and led the team to a decisive victory over the star-studded USC Trojans, which features Bronny James. Yes, the son of Lebron James.

Mookie Cook made his collegiate debut against the University of Washington on January 4th. Cook had been sidelined with an ankle injury at the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic in April.

In Cook’s first game with the Ducks, he played 6 minutes and had 4 points,1 rebound, and a steal. Cook will likely see an increase in playing time against Washington State on the 6th.

These three freshmen will have to continue their successful starts in college hoops if the Ducks want a chance to dance in March.

Senior center Dante has only seen 27 minutes this season, all coming in the Ducks’ first game. He went off collecting 16 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Dante underwent a successful knee surgery in November 2023.

Junior center Bittle played in three games before needing to have wrist surgery which was also completed in November of last year. So far, he has averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.67 blocks per game.

Zarzuela, a transfer from Central Michigan, clocked an average of 27.8 minutes through the five games in which he saw playing time. Before hurting his ankle in mid-December, he was earning 10 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game, and 2.2 assists per game. 

Zarzuela needs surgery to repair the injuries to his ankle and will be out for the remainder of the season.

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