When former Gonzaga Prep star Oti Gildon verbally committed to the University of Oregon in the summer of 2014, Kelly Graves was about to embark on his first season with Oregon after being Gonzaga’s head coach for 14 years.
He’d finish that first year at 13-17.
Times have certainly changed since then.
“She’s exactly the type of person you build a program around,” Kelly remarked after Oregon defeated Washington State last week.
Four years later, and the Ducks are one of the premiere women’s basketball programs in the country.
A simple gesture answers the question of why Oti took a risk on the Ducks when the trophies and banners weren’t present.
“This guy,” Oti said, patting Kelly on the arm. “I’ve known him since I moved to Spokane. He came to all the games, and I went to all the Gonzaga camps. I trusted him, and I wanted to be a part of something big, and we made it.”
They’ve definitely made it.
The Ducks are coming off of back-to-back tournament appearances, including going to the elite eight last season, are currently ranked #4 in the nation, and just a few weeks ago Oti and one of her teammates became the all-time winningest players in Oregon women's basketball history.
“I had no idea and then Coach Campbell told me about two games before. He was like, ‘Hey you and Maite are about to be the all-time winningest duo,’ and I was like ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ It’s cool to be a part of that.”
It’s no surprise to Coach Graves that Oti is in this position.
“The winningest player in program history… That’s not an accident. It’s because she is such a leader and gives us a huge lift each and every game. We’ve won NCAA Tournament games because of Oti,” Kelly said pointing to the senior.
Even through all of the recent success, Gildon and Graves haven’t forgotten where she, and this program, started.
“There’s a picture that we have. Me and Maite were looking at it the other day, actually,” Oti reminisced. “It was a picture of the stadium our freshman year and there’s maybe a thousand fans and to senior year that was taken a couple games ago and there’s about 9,000 fans in there, so that’s awesome. Just great to see a program build up each year and great teammates along the way.”
“I’m sure glad that this one’s with us,” Kelly added. “I truly mean that Oti. I think you’ve done so many wonderful things for us. I’ll never forget that she took a chance on us. I know we had a relationship, but we had nothing to sell her other than come here and we hope to be good someday and she helped that happen.”