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Local talent one method to Madness.

Byline: George Schroeder The Register-Guard

By early Saturday afternoon, Landen Lucas had posted up in front of the flat screens at the ESPN Zone. Never mind a trip to Disneyland, he didn't want to miss the Final Four.

The Oregonian was in California for spring break, and says: "I had to escape the rain and get some sun."

Given the weather we've endured lately, it's hard to blame him. Or for this next bit, either.

Lucas, a 6-foot-10 center from Beaverton's Westview High School, will play next season for Kansas, joining the parade of big-time players leaving Oregon to play college basketball elsewhere.

As Lucas watched the Jayhawks beat Ohio State on Saturday night, he dreamed about what might be in his future.

"A lot of people will have high expectations (for Kansas) heading into next year," he said, "but that's how you like it."

Meanwhile, I couldn't help but envision what might have been. In Saturday's first semifinal, we saw Portland's Terrence Jones and Kyle Wiltjer playing for Kentucky. And now for a moment, let's picture all three - or heck, only two of the three, and you pick 'em - as Ducks. Or, if you like, as Beavers.

How might that have changed things for Dana Altman or Craig Robinson?

The coaches were in New Orleans on Saturday, by the way, with tickets to the Final Four. Altman attended the semifinal games. Robinson didn't, instead spending time with donors. Both guys plan to leave town before Monday's championship, which isn't all that unusual.

But the point is, they were spectators Saturday, just like the rest of us. Not that anyone who has followed the local basketball scene - or the exodus of local talent - is surprised.

Oregon State was once a hoops power. Twice in the last decade, Oregon came within a game of getting to the Final Four.

But right now, Ducks and Beavers alike would simply be glad to participate in March Madness. Which brings us back to Jones, Wiltjer, Lucas - and to several others.

I like what Altman is building at Oregon, and what Robinson has accomplished in raising Oregon State basketball from a shambles to solid. There's promise for more and better, from both programs.

Still, 10 players from the state of Oregon were on rosters of teams in the NCAA Tournament. Not all of them would have fit in Eugene or Corvallis, and there were various reasons why each ended up elsewhere. So it's not simple.

But it's a puzzle that must be solved. Never mind the Final Four, maybe you're wondering why our local schools keep sitting out March Madness?

They've got to start keeping kids home.

It's even more difficult to understand when legacies leave. Wiltjer's father, Greg, played at Oregon State. And you probably remember Lucas' father, Richard, who played for the Ducks a generation ago, an undersized center and a fan favorite. Landen, a regular-sized center, might have followed his father.

"That was for sure something I considered," he said.

There was apparently a mutual cooling between Lucas and Oregon. It wasn't meant to be. And then Lucas visited Kansas, spent some time at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, encountered the school's hoops tradition. It's hard to fault his choice. Just like if he had picked Kentucky. Or Duke (Kyle Singler). Or UCLA (Kevin Love).

But like the others before him, Lucas is leaving home.

The Ducks and Beavers must recruit beyond the borders to be successful. But unlike in football, there's often enough top-line talent, right in their backyard, to make a huge impact.

Jones, Wiltjer and Lucas, sure. But also, players like Terrence Ross and Andrew Andrews, both from Portland, both now at Washington. And Mike Moser, who went to UCLA before transferring to UNLV. And we could keep going.

This isn't news to anyone, maybe. Certainly not to Altman and Robinson. Both have good, solid Oregon kids on their rosters. We've seen positive impact.

Also, it's a lot easier said than done, convincing talented kids to stick around. But it's an imperative, which is why both coaches have tried hard to make inroads locally, especially in the Portland area.

What if, Jones, Wiltjer and Lucas - or some similar combination - had stayed home for college and played together?

"That would have been fun," Lucas said, "but no one wants to be the first to try and not have people follow."

It's Altman's and Robinson's job to get the first guy. And then to convince others to follow.

If the goal is participation in March Madness - and the goal should be bigger than that - the Ducks and Beavers cannot afford to keep letting talented Oregon kids escape.

Otherwise, well, the coaches get Final Four tickets. For the rest of us, it's easy enough to see in HD what - and who - we're missing.

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Title Annotation:Sports Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U4KS
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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