- Next up in our freshman intro series is Oregon's N'Faly Dante, who reclassified this summer and can hold his own in the class of 2019.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 14 overall recruit, Oregon's N'Faly Dante. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for the Ducks' Recruiting Class
Headlining an Oregon recruiting class that made an August jump to No. 4 in the country, N’Faly Dante’s late-summer reclassification was huge for the Ducks. The five-star, 6’11” center brings depth to the five and anchors what should be a strong incoming class with multiple immediate contributors in Eugene. Joining the program along with Dante is fellow five-star CJ Walker (No. 28), a power forward, four-star shooting guard Addison Patterson (No. 42), a top Canadian prospect who recently reclassified into the 2019 recruiting class just days after Dante and also committed to Oregon, four-star center Isaac Johnson (No. 74), who will serve a two-year church mission before joining the team and power forward Chandler Lawson (No. 94). JUCO prospect Chris Duarte, another shooting guard, and three-star forward Lok Wur round out the incoming class. The Ducks also added immediately eligible New Mexico guard Anthony Mathis and UNLV wing Shakur Juiston. Head coach Dana Altman did some serious summer work to land Dante and the rest of this talented crew.
How He Fits
Dante will be a key piece of Oregon’s lengthy frontcourt. While sophomore Francis Okoro is likely still the favorite to open the season as Oregon’s starting center, Dante should have plenty of opportunity down low after the departures of all of the Ducks’ starting bigs from last season. Bol Bol, Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Paul White are all gone which means there is a ton of rebuilding in store. Dante’s size and anticipation should give the Ducks an immediate boost on the defensive end and on the boards. He’ll be a scoring presence inside the paint and should add his fair share of second-chance points on putbacks. For someone of his size, Dante has decent stamina and is relatively athletic, capable of running the floor and controlling the rim area. But he has a minimal mid-range game, and adding a consistent jumpshot to his repertoire could seriously improve his upside. Before reclassifying, Dante was the No. 12 ranked player in the 2020 class and the No. 3 center after earning MVP honors at the 2019 Peach Jam Classic following a 22-point, 18-rebound performance in the final. It’s clear he can produce, but his offensive versatility is definitely a weakness. With a body that already looks ready for the rigors of the college level, he should make a fairly seamless transition despite his youth, given that he has time to develop offensively—which he should with Okoro also available.
While Dante should slot in off the bench at the five, Walker, a wildly athletic four who will be a huge asset in the paint, will likely slide in alongside Okoro as a starter, with Lawson also seeing significant playing time. Lawson comes to the Ducks as a less-refined but still high-upside forward. Shakur Juiston will likely slide into the three slot but Altman could also play around with less-traditional lineups, putting both Walker and Lawson on the floor at the same time if he wants to go with personnel over position.
Altman has already shown that he isn’t afraid to experiment with his lineups, particularly with putting four bigs on the floor at one time which could mean Dante sees more minutes in his first season than projected. During the Ducks unexpected trip to the Sweet 16, Oregon often started four players who were 6’9”or taller to surround 6’2” point guard Payton Pritchard, who returns for his senior season. Sophomore guard Will Richardson also stayed, giving the Ducks both backcourt starters from last season. Patterson provides plenty of perimeter potential and is a versatile combo guard who should see immediate minutes. Mathis is one of the nation’s best three-point shooters and, along with Duarte, provides Altman with an additional option on the wing. There shouldn’t be a shortage of perimeter scoring on this squad, and Dante & Co. provide plenty of potential in the paint.
Importance to Oregon's Success/Team Outlook
Of the 15 highest-rated players to ever commit to Oregon, five are on this year’s roster. With a plethora of new faces, the Ducks will hope to figure out how to gel and learn Dana Altman’s system quicker than they did in 2018–19, when they didn’t find their form until February. Dante is a big get for the rebuilding frontcourt, especially given that Johnson won’t be available at the five for two seasons. He brings both depth and scoring potential to the frontcourt and should immediately put the Ducks back in Pac-12 title contention. Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament and then gave eventual champion Virginia a run in March Madness last spring, and brings in enough new talent that it should be able to attempt something similar next season.