Pushing For Consistency

Izaiah Fisher

It looked like an ESPN highlight reel on November 3 in Matthew Knight Arena as a young star drove to the baseline looking ready to score an impossible lay-up before the 7-foot giant N’Faly Dante came out of nowhere to reject the basket, an extraordinary play during an ordinary practice for the Oregon Ducks basketball team. Ten men stood on the court, about four or five on the sideline, as well as a handful of coaches, and yet within the chaos of the group each individual maintained laser-focus. The high-pitched screeching of rubber on the Japanese torii decorated floors of the arena reverberated off the stands along with the occasional shout of a play call or correction from Dana Altman, coaching like a conductor, giving each individual player the notes necessary to make a perfect song. In an instant, the noise halted as everyone on the court stopped what they’re doing the exact moment a whistle blew. The entire stadium sat empty, a strong juxtaposition to the extraordinarily loud Oregon fans that are normally in attendance. All of a sudden the focus snapped back to the court as the lecture ended at another whistle blow and practice resumed. The players became a green and yellow blur as they ran play after play, each body a finely tuned instrument of the band that makes up the team. In the middle of it all was the source of the whistle: Dana Altman. 

Altman’s career thus far is eerily similar to that of legends in NCAA coaching history. In 35 years of coaching, he’s racked up 690 wins and 32 tournament wins on the six teams he’s coached. He holds the record for the most wins in Creighton and Oregon history, showing that regardless of where he’s at he makes a strong impression. This doesn’t only reflect on his record, though. Each player he’s coached has come to know him as a strong mentor both on and off the court. Altman has a very strong belief in work ethic, and this shows in his players demeanor after leaving his programs. Even since he was a player himself, schools, players, and teams alike have all learned an important lesson in leadership and consistency from Altman.

After playing guard in high school in Nebraska, he went on to attend Fairbury Junior College (now known as Southeast Community College) where he spent time developing his skills. He also earned an associate degree in business administration before moving on to Eastern New Mexico University in 1980 to earn an undergraduate degree in the same field. 

From 1980-82 Altman assisted in coaching the Mountaineers at Western Colorado University. After this, he found himself coaching the same team he’d once played for in his time at Southeast Community College in Nebraska. For Altman, his first head coaching job was surreal. He was “excited to have his own team,” to the point where he can’t remember how the season went for the team. After the initial excitement of coaching his own team died down, the next step for Altman turned out to be a massive turning point in his career, blazing a path to Division I coaching.

Altman’s first taste of this next level came as an assistant coach at Kansas State University, assisting Lon Kruger. At the end of his career, Kruger won over 700 games as a head coach, proving to be a great mentor for the young, inexperienced Altman. Kruger led the team to a 20-win season before ending the next ranked 20 in the 1987-88 final AP poll with Altman as his assistant. 

One season later, Altman served a short stint as the head coach of Marshall University where he earned coach of the year in the Southern Conference before returning to Kansas State as head coach. As head coach, Altman admitted he was “afraid to fail,” but his fear turned out to be moot. His time there can be summarized in one word: clutch. From having a 6-1 record in games decided by one point to the team’s 11 games won in the final minute, Altman was beginning only to show his talent.

He earned his first Power 5 Conference coach of the year in a new school, this time in the Big 8, marking the first of many of these awards at Creighton University. In four years time, he led the team that held a 7-22 record to an 18-10 season. Here, he would coach three All-American Honors students as well as three separate future NBA players, showing his impact on players he’s coached even outside the court. Altman holds the belief that “no matter how talented you are, if you don’t work your tail off” you won’t make it to the next level in your basketball career. He states, “we’ve never had a guy who makes it to the NBA who’s first quality wasn’t their work ethic.” 

While the players lucky enough to play for him continued to thrive and rack up an impressive list of accomplishments, Altman did the same. In 16 years, Altman would go on to become the winningest coach in Creighton history, as well as the third most winning in the Missouri Valley Conference, racking up 327 wins before eventually moving on.

On April 24, 2010 Altman made history, inking a seven-year deal with the University of Oregon as the new head coach. He took over following a mediocre year for the Ducks, leaving room for improvement. He immediately found his groove, leading the team to a 21-18 season before making the sweet 16 in the 2012-13 season two years later. Just two years after this playoff appearance, he went on to make his first Elite Eight appearance, then the Final Four the year after. 

After two 30-plus win seasons, Altman was at an all-time high for his career: the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament against the third-ranked team in the nation. As the final seconds closed out of a massive upset over the number one seeded Kansas, he couldn’t help but feel proud. “After spending seven years coaching Kansas State, it was an amazing feeling” to go into Kansas and beat them by 14 points in front of 18,000 of their fans. He recalled that his family from Nebraska was there to see this as well, adding to the feeling of accomplishment. Altman credited the win to how “smart and hard (the team) played.” He especially gave credit to Tyler Dorsey, saying that he “made some shots which created separation, which was the reason we were able to win by 14.”

After just one season without a playoff appearance, he returned to the Sweet 16 in 2019 before the pandemic. For Altman, this meant re-learning what’s most important in the game of basketball: having fun. He recalls seeing the players being forced to stay in their rooms at all times and being unable to go out and enjoy themselves. The lack of emotion in the players helped Altman come to the realization that “they can’t truly be satisfied unless they’re having fun.” 

Altman believes that to have fun as a team you have to win, so he brings this belief to each team he coaches. While “no two years are ever alike,” Altman is always supportive of his players both on and off the court. He wants his players to know consistency both on and off the floor in his coaching and mentoring. The players he coaches understand him, and vice versa.


As the practice came to a close on November 3 everyone looked exhausted. There was barely enough air left in them to talk. After the team huddle, they all stood there for a moment, hands over their heads, breathing heavily. One player, though, continued to shoot. He had been grilled all practice over the most minute details, and seemed as though he had to prove to himself he was better than that. Altman knew this player had serious talent, and that’s exactly why he’d been so hard on him. 

He pulled him aside after practice, and although it wasn’t possible to hear what was said, it was easy to understand the gist of it: Altman knows of yet a higher level in which he strives to prepare players and the player wanted to reach the same level. 

Altman clearly sees each individuals within the green and yellow blur of his practices. These individuals all learn to “know consistency” thanks to Altman’s mentoring, meaning everyone has these individual talks; everyone gets grilled from time to time; everyone has the ability to become the greatest they can possibly be. Altman says,  “off the floor I’m there to support them all the time. On the floor I’m there to push them; to drive them constantly.”