Glendale, Ariz. — It’s one thing to have Nike as a sponsor. It’s quite another to have the owner of Nike as your No. 1 fan.
After a 78-year absence from college basketball’s biggest stage, Oregon is at the Final Four this week. For a good deal of this success, the Ducks can thank Nike’s billionaire owner, Phil Knight — the man who keeps the money flowing into the hoops program, and all the rest of the sports, too.
One of Knight’s most recent, and benevolent, gifts to Oregon was a $100 million donation to help fund the school’s opulent basketball arena, named after Knight’s late son, Matthew.
“Phil Knight and Nike have essentially created a lab at the University of Oregon,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “The students welcome that.
“As long as the programs perform well and stay out of trouble , it’s rinse and repeat.”
Among other beneficiaries of Knight’s largesse: The football team, which has played for the national title twice this decade; and the men’s and women’s track teams, which have combined for 13 indoor and outdoor NCAA titles since 2010. All this after Oregon spent decades playing in the second division of the Pac-12 and in relative obscurity in the college town of Eugene, population 160,000.
The arena is one of the best-outfitted in the country. Opened in 2011, it cost $227 million and stood as the most expensive on-campus arena in the U.S.
The details are painstaking:
The lettering on the marquee spells out “Matt” — “in a Japanese-inspired Torii gate shape,”per the arena website.
There’s artwork outside the arena and fan-tribute displays on the concourse.
The floor, emblazoned with the “Matt” logo set above the words “Deep in the Woods” is designed with the silhouette of a Pacific Coast tree line, in honor of Oregon’s 1939 title team, known as The Tall Firs.
A few years ago at a basketball game, Oregon held “Uncle Phil Appreciation Night” for Knight’s 76th birthday.
Maybe they can hold another one at the Final Four, too.
“Phil Knight is one of the legends,” Ducks guard Tyler Dorsey said. “It’s great having him on our side.”
Mason, Few honored
Kansas guard Frank Mason III and Gonzaga coach Mark Few have won The Associated Press player and coach of the year awards, respectively.
Mason led Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 title. He received 37 votes from the same 65-member media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25. Few has taken the Zags to the NCAA Tournament in all 18 of his seasons there, and their first Final Four this year. He was a runaway winner, receiving 31 votes from the panel.
Mason, a senior point guard, averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 48.7 percent on 3’s. He is the first Kansas player to win the national honor.
Josh Hart of Villanova was second in the voting with 16 votes, while Caleb Swanigan of Purdue had nine and Lonzo Ball of UCLA had three.
Women winners no shock
Kelsey Plum had a historic season for Washington while Geno Auriemma did one of his best coaching jobs at Connecticut. Both were overwhelming choices as The Associated Press women’s basketball player and coach of the year awards.
Plum broke the career NCAA scoring mark, topping Jackie Stiles’ 16-year-old record in style with a 57-point effort on her senior night.
Auriemma’s Huskieds enter the Final Four without a loss, winners of 111 straight games.
Plum received 30 of the 33 votes from the national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. A’ja Wilson of South Carolina, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson of UConn each received a vote.
Arizona freshman forward Lauri Markkanen is leaving early for the NBA and is expected to hire an agent.
... TJ Leaf is leaving UCLA for the NBA Draft, joining fellow freshman Lonzo Ball in departing after one season.
... Forward Collin Hartman announced he’s playing one more season at Indiana.
... Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson had his contract extended through 2027.