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Ducks to take flight in Pan Am tryout.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

Maarty Leunen and Bryce Taylor will soon be off to Haverford, Pa., where a productive three days for the two Oregon basketball players could lead to a trip to Brazil with the United States team in the Pan American Games.

`It has special significance, being regarded as one of the top players in the country and representing America,' Taylor said. `It's something I'd love to add to my resume.'

The two Ducks, who will be seniors next season, will be among 30 college players competing for berths on the USA team that will play in Brazil. The tryouts will be July 12-14, with the finalists for the Pan Am roster named July 15. The team will then practice at Haverford College through July 18, leading to exhibition games prior to the Pan Am Games, which has the men's basketball competition scheduled July 25-29.

UO coach Ernie Kent, a member of the selection committee for the team, said his advice to his two players was `be ready. It will be a very competitive environment at this level, because it's a who's who of college basketball' trying out for the team.

`I'm definitely excited, whether I make the team or not,' Leunen said. `I'll have the opportunity to showcase my skills to tons of people and see where I stack up against the nation's best players.'

Both players come off strong junior seasons. Leunen averaged 11 points and led the Ducks in rebounding, and Taylor was Oregon's second-leading scorer at 15 points and made 42 percent of his three-point shots.

`One of the things I've learned is to not get complacent, because I had a little bit of that after my freshman season,' Taylor said. `My knees were bothering me and I took too much time off instead of working through it and doing the necessary things to get my body in better shape.'

If anything, Taylor increased his workouts after the past season, whether in individual sessions or team situations.

`My confidence is as high as it's ever been right now, and I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, so it's going to be a big summer for me," he said.

During the pickup games during open gyms in the spring, it was usually Leunen and Taylor dividing the teams and putting themselves on opposite units. With Aaron Brooks graduated, and Malik Hairston concentrating on his individual sessions emphasizing conditioning, it was obvious that Leunen and Taylor saw themselves more as leaders.

`That's just us growing into our roles and being seniors now,' Taylor said. `It's kind of crazy, seeing `senior' next to my name in the (newspaper), but we've had to mature and lead by example, with weight workouts and (scrimmage situations).

`It was kind of a natural progression, so it's not uncomfortable to us anymore.'

The two have not only been on opposing teams in five-on-five workouts but also have guarded each other in the pickup games, even though Leunen, at 6-foot-9, is four inches taller.

`It's fun for me because I challenge him, being quicker,' Taylor said. `He's 6-9 but he's more of a wing player, and it's something he's going to have to get used to.'

For Taylor, he understands playing against a taller opponent `is something I'm going to have to get used to with a goal to play at the next level. In the NBA, shooting guards are getting bigger and bigger.'

Leunen, normally a post player and last season often the tallest Duck on the court but with outside shooting ability, said, `I love the challenge of trying to defend (Taylor). That's the great thing about this summer. I can compare myself to players like Bryce and get myself better and find out if I can score against guards. It's definitely helped me out.'

At the tryouts next week, Leunen said, `I'm not the type of player to go out there and showboat my skills, but I know there are times I'm going to have to take more of a selfish approach but stick to my strengths, do the little things I know I can do the best and not try to do anything out of the ordinary.'

Luke Jackson, who was chosen for the 2003 USA team to the Pan Am Games during the summer before his senior season at Oregon, has been a regular in workouts with the Ducks and said both of them should have a strong case for making the team, but they must play well from the opening practice.

`The coaches that are watching can narrow it down really quick on who they want to play,' Jackson said. `There are usually big names who people figure will make the team, and the coaches do play favorites.'

The head coach for the team is Jay Wright of Villanova. He will be assisted by Mark Gottfried of Alabama and James Jones of Yale. Kent is on the 12-member committee that joins the coaches in choosing the team.

`It's going to be very difficult for us as a committee to get down to 12 people,' Kent said. `You better come ready to play, be on your game and have confidence.

`That first night is huge. You've got to produce right away.'

With Leunen and Taylor possibly on this national team and a couple of other Ducks with teams internationally, it's a definite contrast to last summer.

A year ago, Oregon was training for a trip to the Bahamas as a unit, and credited the camaraderie and fitness from those workouts in Eugene with being a key factor in the strong start to a season that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

`This summer is more about everybody individually getting better, but we know come late summer and early fall, we're going to come together as a team and work on our goals and establish our team chemistry,' Leunen said.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Seniors Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen will compete for spots on the USA entrant into the tournament
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 4, 2007
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