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Message from the Executive Director

The crowd at The Grill in Phoenix during the Final Four
Duck Fan Central at The Park in Phoenix.

I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona where our men's basketball team competed in the Final Four. The competition was fierce and our talented team fought hard, and while they didn’t bring home the title, I feel that they won. In the true Duck spirit, they persevered and brought us to the Final Four for the first time since 1939. Read it again: 1939! That’s a long time; that’s 328 in Duck years. They came back in the final seconds in multiple games this year and went on to defeat Kansas (in nearby Kansas City, only 40 miles from KU's campus!) with a severe deficit with the significant loss of Chris Boucher in the Pac-12 tournament. Each of the players brought talent, precision, and skill to the court; as a team, they brought unity, pizzazz and grit to Matthew Knight Arena and visiting courts.

However, they brought us something else during the weekend of the Final Four, and I felt it everywhere—near the Fan Fest in downtown Phoenix, at the UOAA headquarters at The Park where we hosted the UOAA's Arizona chapter and out of town UOAA members, and at the team hotel. They brought pride to every Duck engaged in the process and you could feel it oozing out of people. Not only did I feel it, I heard it. "Wow, what a spectacular season," "This team is on the rise," "Can’t wait 'till next season," and "Jordan Bell is the block meme king."

I could go on and on sharing the enthusiastic comments I heard. Not only did I feel and hear the Duck spirit, I saw it. I saw it at the team hotel that night. I saw it when the team returned from the stadium after a very close, but gut wrenching, loss. I saw it in the players’ and coaches’ eyes when they walked in the lobby, and I also saw their sheer disappointment. And while the blow was clearly personal, it was more than that. In addition to their own sadness, the team was clearly carrying on their shoulders a sense that they let us down. They probably weren’t expecting a lobby mobbed with Ducks cheering them on, supporting them and thanking them for the fantastic experience that they gave to us.

And while the team left the next morning for Eugene, I remained, with other Ducks, in the desert. I expected to be met with discontent over the next couple of days. But my fellow Ducks never cease to surprise me; like Dillon Brooks’s memorable final seconds three-pointers we enjoyed this season, I was met with more enthusiasm for our team and for the student athletes and coaches that make it the great team it is. I experienced people who cared more about how the other was doing—fans concerned about the team and the team thinking about the fans. I experienced alumni filled with pride, students riding the wave, and saw Eugene kids with smiles that looked like Tyler Dorsey’s “Mr. March” grin when they ran into the team on Sunday night.

And when I got on the plane to return to Eugene, I recalled the words of Dylan Ennis in the locker room after the game, “We fought as a family,” and of Coach Altman, “You know how much I care about you, our basketball staff cares about you, our university president, Rob (Mullens, athletic director), our best supporters, that fighting spirit, that’s what we want Oregon basketball to be about.” And, I realized that this whole experience was a microcosm of the entire University of Oregon landscape. This was, and is, about community: a strong, tenacious, supportive, intrepid Duck community.

As the team huddled in the locker room after the game, the last word they uttered was “family,” and I am especially proud to be a part of it. Brooks, Dorsey, and Bell have all since declared for the NBA Draft, so they will never again wear the green and yellow of the UO on the MKA court; but, as we all know, once a Duck, always a Duck!