Oregon Ducks star guard Payton Pritchard won the Lute Olson Award for the nation’s most outstanding non-freshman. His next stop is the NBA.
Pritchard is a four-year starter who averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 assists per game as a senior, connecting on 41.5 percent of his attempts from three-point range. He became the first player in Pac-12 history to have 1,900 career points, 500 career rebounds and 600 career assists.
The guard caught up with HoopsHype to speak about winning four straight high school titles, his favorite memories playing at Oregon and his NBA future. He also talked about learning from his parents, who were both collegiate athletes at the University of Oklahoma.
Please note this interview was very minorly edited for brevity and clarity.
This is a special interview for me because I went to the University of Oregon! How important was it for you to be a part of that Oregon program being from the area?
Payton Pritchard: To be honest, at first, I was open to going anywhere. But ultimately, when it came down to the decision, in the end, I felt like Oregon was the best place for me to come in and play right away and grow as a person and also as a player, which happened. I knew I was going to win there. So those were the main factors going into coming to Oregon.
You won four state championships during your four years at West Linn High School. I would love to hear about your experience there and how you were able to become such a winner at that level.
PP: Coming in, I was with an older group. There were definitely talented people in high school ahead of me. I had to earn my stripes and my starting spot my freshman year. But I think it was the same thing with high school and college. I came in and worked my tail off and everyone knew I was such a big competitor. I was going to do whatever it took to win. I was going to earn every minute of playing time. I think that after people saw that, they believed in me. Everybody followed that competitiveness and they played as hard as I did.
The season ended unexpectedly but what do you think the ceiling was for your team last year?
PP: I definitely thought we had a shot at making it really far and we had a real chance at the national championship. It’s tough. You have to win six games. I really thought we had the talent and the personnel to do it. We were getting everybody back healthy. We could have gone on a run. But the season got cut short. It is what it is. I still think the Ducks are at the center of the top-tier. We will always be in the race to win the Pac-12. We will be in the tournament every year, competing to win the national championship and making it to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and the Final Four. I just think Oregon will always be in that conversation now.
I’d love to hear a little bit about what winning means to you and how you think that will help you as an NBA player.
PP: I’ve heard Coach Altman use this line before. Everybody likes to win. I separate myself because I hate to lose. I can’t stand losing. So when it comes to the time at the end of the game and there is going to be a deciding play, I want to be the one to make it. I can take the blame. Of course, you have to know your role going into the NBA playing with all-stars and unbelievable players. That’s when you listen to your coach and you know your role. But for me, I’m always going to stay ready. If the ball does come to me, I will be ready to take that shot.
You chose representation from a guy who was a team manager and scout team for Oregon with Greg Lawrence. What’s that connection you have? Why did you end up choosing to go with him as your agent?
PP: Greg and I had the connection being from Oregon, yeah. People that I knew trusted him. That’s what made me go with him in the first place. He is going to work hard and be a good agent for me.
During your freshman year at Oregon, your team went to the Final Four. How did that experience shape who you became as a leader during your later years?
PP: Those guys were talented. I played with Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher and they all ended up going to the pros. I learned what it took to make it to the Final Four, the work ethic that we needed, the practicing, just how hard everyone was competing. I definitely learned a lot. I got better that year because I was going against those guys.
What were some of your favorite experiences playing at Oregon?
PP: The wins. Some of the big wins, obviously, are great moments. We went to Final Four during my first year. My sophomore year, I loved all of the big wins at home. Junior year, when we went on that run at the end of the season when we looked like we weren’t going to make the tournament and we ended up making it to the Sweet 16. Then last year, we had huge wins against Seton Hall and Michigan and Arizona and Arizona State and Washington. We had some really big games so there a lot of great memories. But I also loved the daily stuff, coming into the gym being with my teammates, grinding our emotions.
What are some of the main things that you learned from coach Dana Altman?
PP: He helped reinforce my willingness to come in and work hard every day. He stressed defense a lot. I kept working on my defense to become really good at that. Another thing that was really big for me was working on straight-line drives with my ball-handling skills. He wanted me to just make one cut and get into the lane and get fouled. I think I really got better at that.
Tell me about your instincts as a distributor. Where did that first come from?
PP: I think part of that just came from training and being able to get anywhere on the court with my ball handling. I practice passing with different angles in different ways. So when I’m on the court, I take everything from instinct. If a teammate is open, I’m going to throw it with my left, right, behind the back. I think that’s just from training and being confident.
What is your comfort level right now in the pick and roll? How do you think that’ll translate to the next level when you’re playing with NBA bigs more often?
PP: It will translate really well. I can get in those gaps, get into the lane and hit a pull-up floater or throwing a lob for a big to dunk. The pick and roll is such a big thing in the NBA. I think I will be able to use it really well.
How do you think you can help space the floor for an NBA team?
PP: I can really space the floor. Obviously, you have to earn everything. I know that coming in, my role will be to space the floor. I think I will be able to do that. I’m going to be ready to shoot. Just like my freshman year of college, I knew I wasn’t going to be the guy that had the ball in his hands all the time. But I had to take care of the ball and make plays when they were there. I had to be ready to do that. It took a lot of practice, coming off screens and being able to shoot. The elite shooters can do that. I’m still working on that every day and building from that. When it comes to shooting, I just really want there to be no weakness, no area where I won’t be able to shoot that shot. I want to have a lot of different shots in my arsenal.
Do you think you could be a combo guard like CJ McCollum at the next level?
PP: Getting moved around from point guard to play with other point guards, that’s not a big deal to me. I’ve done that in college too. I can play off the ball because I can shoot it. My mentality is a point guard mentality. But I know I can easily play the two-guard as well.
What about creating out of isolation? What are some ways that you think that you’ll be able to create your own offense as a professional athlete?
PP: I think it has a lot to do with the quickness, change of direction, ball-handling and being able to break down a defender. I’ve always been able to do that from a young age. Going to the NBA, I’m going to be able to do that, too.
How did you first fall in love with basketball? What are some of the things that really got you interested in the game?
PP: I was in love with three or four sports growing up, the three main ones being basketball and baseball and football. I liked to golf a little bit, too. I thought I was going to be the first athlete to play all three sports in the pros. [Laughs] When it came time to make a decision, I loved the competitiveness of basketball. I loved how fast-paced it was and how you can always work on it and just play ball. I fell in love with it way more than football and baseball because it was faster.
Well, I’m happy you chose basketball. What positions did you play in other sports?
PP: I played quarterback and shortstop. I tell people this all the time because in football you’re dealing with so many different types of people, different personalities. Wide receivers are different from linemen. Running backs are different from kickers. You have to learn how to talk to each teammate and how to motivate them and bring them together to be one team. I think playing quarterback taught me how to approach each teammate differently. When I played baseball, I was a little younger. But at shortstop, you have to be vocal with the infield. They look at you as a leader. In baseball, you have to be able to encourage guys and lift them up.
You also had a chance to play for your father on the AAU circuit. What are some of the things that you learned as a part of that experience?
PP: It was a good experience. Obviously, playing with my dad was fun. There were some tough times but I’m sure a lot of father-sons go through that. Our team was really talented. Those days will always be great memories. We won so many big games.
He was a college basketball athlete himself. What are some of the things that he did to help you become such a star in the NCAA?
PP: He and my mom were both athletes at the University of Oklahoma, actually. They helped me with the work ethic and how to be prepared for everything. I just learned from their mistakes and they showed me how not to make those same mistakes. I feel like I did the best I could during my four years at Oregon.
Have you had a chance to talk to 2020 WNBA No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu about your four years together, both excelling for the Ducks?
The state of Oregon has the best point guards in all of basketball right now.
— John Canzano (@johncanzanobft) February 1, 2020
PP: We haven’t necessarily talked about the four years or how special it’s been, especially for her. But what she has been able to accomplish so far is unbelievable. We came in together so when it ended the way it did was rough. Thankfully, she won National Player of the Year. She deserved that. But it was just special. I’m just really happy for her and the university that they got to see something like that.
What are some of the advice that you would give incoming freshmen who are about to embark on a similar journey to the four years that you just had?
PP: If you want to make it as far as you can one day, and hopefully make it to the league, it has to be about your work ethic. You have to be consistent. College is a bumpy road. You go through a lot of emotional ups and downs. You have to come in and work every day and it will pay off. You’ll get the most out of it that way.
What are some of the other things you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?
PP: When I’m not playing, if I really have time, I’m kicking back with friends. When it’s really nice out, I like to go golfing with my dad. But sometimes it rains in Oregon so golfing is not always available,
What are some goals you have for yourself moving forward?
PP: Right now, my goal is to continue to work on myself and my craft and to be in the best shape. I want to play basketball to the best of my ability. When it is time to go play in the NBA, I’ll be ready.