Back where it all began

Neither Maarty Leunen nor Bryce Taylor have completely closed the door on another season of professional basketball away from home in 2021-22.

If that door is effectively closed for everyone, however, they could play the last competitive basketball of their careers this month in the Oregon Green and Yellow. Leunen and Taylor are back in Eugene this week with several other former UO men’s basketball students to train for the basketball tournament, a 64-team event culminating in a million-dollar winning final. dollars on August 3.

Leunen and Taylor were seniors on the 2007-08 Ducks team that reached the NCAA tournament. Each still ranks among the top 25 scorers in the history of the program and each has enjoyed a long career abroad in the years since, Leunen mainly in Italy and Taylor in Germany. Career players have made round-trip trips to Eugene infrequently, but they’re back this week, young families in tow, to prepare for what could be swan songs on the hard side.

“I have only fond memories of my time here; it is such a unique and beautiful place,” said Taylor, now 34, who has a one-year-old daughter with his wife. “And this is the opportunity to have this full moment of my college athletic career.”

Leunen and Taylor to play with TBT Oregon entry called ‘Always Us’, in nod to current UO coach Dana altmanthe team motto. Both played under the former UO coach and player Ernie Kent, and they see TBT as a chance not only to gain additional competitive experience, but also to serve as a bridge between the generations of Oregon men’s basketball. The list includes older ducks like Leunen, Taylor, and Tajuan Porter, as well as more recent alumni like Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Casey Benson.

Always Us starts the TBT game this weekend in Peoria, Illinois. Regional finalists move on to Championship Weekend the following week in Dayton, Ohio. The matches will be televised by the ESPN family.

Team members started arriving at Eugene on Sunday and had an orientation day as well as their first practice together on Monday. Monday, in the dining room of the Hatfield-Dowlin complex, they had the chance to meet around a brunch.

“There are a lot of useful resources within these groups,” said Leunen, 35, a father of three boys and a one-year-old girl. “Bryce and I are thinking about the next steps in life, so we can reconnect and discover other potential opportunities.…

“Obviously I want to win (the TBT). But it’s more about coming together, being at Eugene, getting to know the program, what Dana has been building over the past few years and just moving on. time together. “

Leunen, who grew up in central Oregon, kept an offseason home in Redmond, but returns to Eugene have been scarce. Taylor made Germany his home, met his wife and started a family there, and also returned infrequently to Eugene. He, too, is looking to strengthen ties between the program’s alumni, now that the end of his playing career is in sight.

“It’s such an ambitious program and I know there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on,” said Taylor, who crafted an unforgettable 11 of 11 shooting performance to help Oregon out. winning the final of the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament. “Like I said, I’m proud of my time here. And I would love to have the opportunity to stay connected to the university in any way, stay connected to the program and come back to some extent. . So this is an opportunity to break into that. “

Leunen and Taylor are two shining examples of where basketball can take Oregon players. Each has built a long and lucrative career in the game, but not in the United States.

Bryce Taylor OTC

“When you grow up in the United States and play at a level like Oregon, you think ‘NBA, NBA, NBA’, don’t you?” Taylor said. “The reality is that a small percentage of these guys are going to go on to have that career that you can envision when you’re 15, 16. So that’s being able to show these guys, look, keep it that way. ‘spirit, carry on with your ambition – but also, there are other possibilities for you to further your playing career, make a living and support your family. “

Leunen, who is still No. 2 in career rebounds in Oregon, has used this avenue to support not only himself but a young family that includes his wife and three boys aged 12, 10 and 6. , as well as their young daughter.

“I could probably play another year or two, but it’s difficult,” he said. “I have a family and I’m missing their lives, and at some point I’m going to have to quit.”

For Leunen and Taylor, the end of the road could happen within the next two weeks in the TBT. Everyone is looking forward to another gaming experience with other Ducks, after professional careers that have made their dreams come true.

“I get paid to do what I love,” Taylor said. “I do what I’ve always done – I play ball – and then at the end of the month you’re going to check your bank account and say ‘OK’. It never got old. I just got a big one. feeling of gratitude. “

About Kimberly Alley

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