Remember the Tall Firs. Howard Hobson's 1938-39 basketball squad won Oregon's first national championship in any sport with a 29-5 record, and they did it with a bold, blur-fast, attacking fast break style of basketball that would have made Chip Kelly proud.
Led by three All-Americans, 6'8" center Slim Wintermute, 6'4" forward Lauren Gale, and 5'8" guard Bobby Anet, the Tall Firs swept through the Pacific Coast Conference and then won the first-ever NCAA basketball tournament, beating Ohio State 46-33 in the final.
Yesterday the football Ducks signed the 21 members of their 2012 recruiting class, and it includes ten players who are 6-4 or taller, and a dozen or so with a basketball background. The new "Tall Firs" are born.
Wheel, deal and throw down: Arik Armstead drives the lane in a baskeball game last season. The fluidity and quickness that makes him a legitimate division one basketball prospect at 6-8, 295 could make him an exceptional, unblockable defensive lineman (maxpreps.com photo).
A basketball game isn't likely to break out when the Ducks face the USC Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum on November 3rd, but the size and versatility of Oregon's recruiting class will help in several ways. They're loaded with rangy athletes that have the frame to get bigger and the agility to excel. The Ducks coaches gravitate to players that love competition and thrive under pressure. Players like 6-8 Arik Armstead, 6-7 Cody Carriger, 6-5 Evan Baylis, 6-6 T.J. Daniel, 6-7 DeForest Buckner and 6-7 Pharoah Brown will fill out. One might become a defensive tackle with exceptional quickness and coordination. A couple will become tenacious defensive ends. Still another might blossom into a formidable linebacker with the wingspan of Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks, a terror for the Miami Hurricanes and Oakland Raiders a generation ago, so legendary they named an award after him. They called him "The Mad Stork," the first hybrid defensive end/linebacker, long before Kenny Rowe and Dion Jordan were blasting quarterbacks from the edge.
Silky smooth basketball swing men like Dwayne Stanford and Chance Allen innately know how to post up a defender on a pass route. They'll catch the ball at its highest point and pivot to the end zone when they come down. They have an innate understanding of body positioning, better control in the air, and hands that snatch a ball in mid-flight rather than waiting a crucial second to cradle it into their chest. The fundamentals of one sport prepare them for the other, give them a unique advantage in the heat of a game.
With their basketball size and agility, these Ducks could awake the echoes of The Tall Firs. Watch Arik Armstead on a spin move, or Cody Carriger throwing down a two-hand reverse slam. These aren't football moves, but they translate. Athletes who compete like that and exhibit that kind of grace and footwork can become special on a football field. Particularly after two, three years working with Nick Aliotti, Don Pellum, Jerry Azzinaro and Jim Radcliffe, superb trainers and teachers who have never enjoyed such a wealth of raw material.
Oregon's 2012 class is loaded with potential and upside, hidden athletic gems the recruiting services can't fully account for. They jump off the film as playmakers who hit, play hard and compete. This is a class with tremendous pride that will rock it out on the practice field and develop uncommon unity. They'll push each other. They'll go to war. Each chosen for a reason, there's a quality of athletic grace and warrior mentality in this group that is exceptional. Watch them closely and prepare to be amazed.
It doesn't stop with basketball either. Hard-hitting linebacker Bret Bafaro slugged his way to a .517 average as an all-state centerfielder last spring, so talented he'll probably be offered a contract in the 2012 baseball draft. Oshay Dunmore is a world class age group decathlete. 6-9 Stetzon Bair was a high school champion wrestler. Tailback Byron Marshall scorched the track for a 10.67 100 meters as a sophomore.
Look up and down their class bios, and you'll see district champions and state finalists, 13-1 records and 3.8 grade averages. Together they are Oregon's new Tall Firs, prepared to earn a legend of their own.
Tall Firs Version 2.0? The basketball connection in the Ducks 2012 recruiting class
Bralon Addison ATH 5-10 185 Missouri City, TX (Fort Bend Hightower)
Lettered twice in basketball. Last year 6.7 points a game with 60 assists and 50 steals on team that went 28-8.
Arik Armstead DL 6-8 280 HS Elk Grove, CA (Pleasant Grove)
A two-year letter winner in basketball
Chance Allen WR 6-3 191 Missouri City, Texas (Fort Bend Elkins HS)
a starting guard on the Knights' basketball team, ranking second on the squad in scoring as both a junior and a senior. 99 assists, 167 rebounds, 8.5 points per game.
Pharaoh Brown TE 6-6 220 HS Lyndhurst, OH (Brush)
A standout basketball player for the Arcs, averaging 18.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game thus far during his senior season … First-team all-conference and MVP as a junior, when he averaged 16.0 points and 14.0 rebounds per contest.
DeForest Buckner DL 6-7 230 HS Honolulu, HI (Punahou)
Four-year letterwinner in basketball, averaging 11.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a senior, helping lead his team to a third-place finish in Hawaii … Named to the all-state first team and all-ILH League first team in basketball.
Cody Carriger DL 6-6 230 HS Butte, MT (Butte) a vertical leap of 35.5 Carriger scored 19 points to go along with five boards and two blocked shots in a 49-39 win over Bozeman last night.
T.J. Daniel ATH 6-6 230 HS Oakland, CA (Bishop O'Dowd) solid contributor off the bench for last season’s California Interscholastic Federation Division III state runners-up.
Dunmore, Oshay DB 6-2 195 HS Newport, OR (Newport)
Stanford, Dwayne WR 6-5 185 HS Cincinnati, OH (Taft)
a standout basketball player for the Senators, helped lead the team to a 26-1 mark and the OHSAA Division 3 title in 2011.