As hard as it is to believe, the college basketball season is almost over. But before we get into all the hysteria that surrounds postseason college hoops, it’s time to pay homage to one of the best players in the Pac-12.
Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard has been old reliable in the conference of champions for four years, and his sturdy yet exhilarating play may be overlooked due to flashier playmakers.
Don’t worry, Pritchard; this article is designed to give you a little love.
Before he ever stepped foot onto UO’s campus, there were high expectations surrounding the four-star recruit. Hailing from West Linn, Oregon, he can be considered a local boy who had already built a reputation due to his play at the high school ranks.
During his stint at West Linn High School, he won four straight state titles. And while this is obviously due to a solid team around him, he was a pivotal factor on these squads, as his junior year Class 6A boys basketball Player of the Year Award indicates.
During his stint at West Linn HS, he averaged 23.6 points per game, 6.8 assists, 3.1 steals, played for Team USA at the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit, and he maintained a 3.61 GPA… sounds like a pretty mediocre guy.
Immediately upon arrival in Eugene, he became a formidable player for the Ducks. After riding the pine the first five games of his freshman year, he was brought into the starting lineup. Oregon finished the rest of the 2016-17 season with a 31-4 record and a trip to the Final Four.
He finished third in the conference with an assists-to-turnover ratio of (2.5-to-1), was eighth in the Pac-12 in assists in (3.6), and was a major part of a team that finished two points short of making it to the NCAA title game.
However, his sophomore year at UO the team took a dive, but his stats continued to improve. He was an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection behind his 14.6 points per game, and 4.8 assists.
He was the Ducks leading returning player in every statistical category with the exception of blocks. Even though Oregon’s season ended with an ignorable second-round defeat in the NIT, he found success on the international scale.
He made the 2017 USA Men’s U19 World Cup roster, where he averaged nine points per game and 3.1 assists in the FIBA U19 World Cup Tournament. He helped guide team USA to a bronze medal and was named to the World Cup All-Star team.
As we hop back to Eugene for his junior season, nobody was quite sure what to make of the program. A Final Four team had quickly puckered out, leaving the fanbase hopeful yet confused.
The 2018-19 campaign is arguably his breakout season because of the Ducks unexpected run to the Sweet 16.
After a mediocre start to the Pac-12 schedule, UO stood at 6-8 in conference and looked doomed to repeat their trip to the NIT.
But then everything changed. Oregon found a way to win their last four conference games and grasped momentum entering the Pac-12 Tournament.
This magical weekend in Las Vegas is where he took his game to another level. With the Ducks needing to win the tourney to qualify for the big dance, he willed his team to victory-after-victory with consistent remarkable performances.
After demolishing WSU in what can be considered a tune-up game, the stakes got high as UO prepared for their quarterfinal matchup against the Utes. He scored 20 points and 5 assists in a victory against a talented Utah squad.
Up next, the Ducks faced Arizona State in the semifinals. Again, he was ready for the challenge. He finished the contest with 18 points and eight assists fueling UO to a four-point victory and advancing them to the Pac-12 Championship game.
At this point, the Ducks had ripped off seven straight wins but would still find themselves in the NIT if they couldn’t win the title.
In the Championship game against Washington, Oregon would not be denied. They controlled the Huskies from start to finish and made their dreams a reality winning the Pac-12 Tourney, while simultaneously qualifying for the NCAA’s.
He led the way with 16 points and five steals, stealing the show away from Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and current NBA player Matisse Thybulle.
Oregon took advantage of their NCAA berth by making a run to the Sweet 16 where they lost to the eventual champion in Virginia. But Pritchard had arrived, under his leadership, he pulled off an unexpected string of results and brought excitement back to the Ducks basketball community.
He is now a senior and has boosted his stats to careers highs. He is currently averaging 19.5 points per game, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals, but 0.0 blocks… C’mon dude step your game up.
The Ducks are currently tied for first place in the Pac-12 and are likely headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
His senior leadership is invaluable and he is the driving force behind a much-improved team with Final Four aspirations. It’ll be interesting to see how the final chapter of his college career unfolds.
He is not a highly touted NBA prospect due to his 6-foot-2 height and lack of athleticism. NBAdraft.net has him predicted as the mock 46th pick in the upcoming draft, and ranked 51st on the big board.
Nevertheless, he is the type of player it may be hard to bet against. What he lacks in size, can be made up for in heart and court awareness. And while it would probably be a bold faced lie to say that he’ll ever be an NBA star like Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry, he could find himself a nice role as a backup point guard.
He is a similar prototype to former Pac-12 Player T.J. McConnell; the ex-Wildcat has found success at the highest level and currently averages more than 19 minutes per game.
But before we worry about the professional ranks, let’s enjoy Pritchard’s final moments in the Pac-12. He’s not done yet, and the Ducks are rearing for another opportunity to make it back to the Final Four.
(Mock Draft info)
(Stats and everything else)