It’s been nearly a decade since the state of Oregon has sent a participant to the McDonald’s All-American game, with Jesuit’s Kyle Wiltjer having last made the trip in 2011. If there’s a game in 2021, Oregon will assuredly be represented by Nathan Bittle, a five-star, top-10 recruit from a small town in southern Oregon.
His skillset is advanced for a wing, much less someone standing nearly 7’ with a whopping 7’5+ wingspan. Bittle has consistently displayed a great deal of ability and confidence with NBA range on his jump shot. He can use either hand with touch around the hoop, can attack a closeout and has ball skills that let him handle in space and throw pinpoint passes from just about anywhere on the court. He also moves very well at his size, and is a defensive force around the rim, having become a high-level shot blocker and paint protector.
Before the 2019-20 season was officially canceled, Bittle had a banner performance in the 5A state quarterfinal, with 35 points (including 5-9 3PT), 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in just 23 minutes of action in a 76-43 win over South Albany. Bittle, the 5A Oregon State Player of the Year, averaged 25.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game during his junior season. He actually upped those averages against top competition, as he averaged 28.5, 12.7 and 5 in games against top-4 6A and top-8 5A opponents.
Bittle was the leading scorer in the prestigious Les Schwab Invitational tournament in 2019, and has a number of USA Basketball camps under his belt. He was the final cut of the USA Basketball U16 team last summer and surely would have tried out for the U17 team if given the chance. He’s spent the past few years playing for Under Armour’s West Coast Elite AAU program, and will look to keep his talents out west for college despite having been recruited nationally by the likes of Georgia Tech, Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Wake Forest. Bittle announced his final four, today, and will choose between Arizona, Gonzaga, Oregon, and UCLA.
In this interview, Bittle breaks down those final four schools and talks about his development during COVID-19, his close ties to his family, his experience with USA Basketball, his days as a pitcher, his golf game, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2021 prospect Nathan Bittle, from Central Point, Oregon:
Pro Insight: It’s been over a year since we did our last Q&A together. What have these past 12-15 months looked like for you?
Nathan Bittle: The last year was really good. Playing with Team USA at the tryouts and everything was just a great experience. Being able to play against the top-50 players of every class, just making you that much better. Then this last season, my high school team did really good — we were on a roll at state — we had won our quarterfinal game by 30 or 40 points. I had a triple-double in that game. We were set to probably win the whole thing, then all the stuff [coronavirus] happened. So however long that’s been — I’ve lost track, now — like the last six months, or so. So after that, me and my dad got into a local gym and started working out there. To stay in shape, we started running a nearby mountain — it’s probably three-and-a-half or four miles roundtrip. My dad also has a group of guys that all played college basketball, so in the mornings we all go to the gym in White City and just play five-on-five for about two hours. Then weights, then just back home once I have all my workouts done. And I get to hang out with friends and stuff during my free time.
PI: In what areas have you developed and matured on the court this past season?
NB: I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger and developed my game in the post. I can still shoot the ball really well. On defense, I’m blocking shots consistently, every game. So I think on the defensive end, it’s been blocking shots and on the offensive end it’s been establishing myself in the post.
PI: How about off the court?
NB: I think I’ve just gotten more assertive — like “this is what I want to do.” I do my weights, my workouts with my dad, and I’ve just really decided on and set my goal of wanting to play in the NBA. I want to make money playing the game of basketball.
PI: What all have you been doing to stay ready throughout this pandemic?
NB: My focus has just been keeping my shot down — I don’t want to lose my touch, or anything like that. So just shooting like 300-400 shots [per day]. Also just working on my post game. Staying in shape by running. I think something that’s really helped has been playing five-on-five with that group of guys that have played college basketball before, so stuff like that. It’s been great still being able to get that “game-like” mentality despite it not being an actual game.
PI: What does a current ‘day in the life’ of Nathan Bittle look like?
NB: So three days a week I wake up at 5 A.M. We start playing at 5:30 and play till about 7:30 A.M. Right after that, I go do my weights with my strength coach — come home, eat breakfast, nap, hang out with some friends in the afternoon a little bit, go shoot 300-400 shots, and then after that I have free time to do whatever I want...go hang out with friends, go to the lake, stuff like that.
PI: What do you love most about the game of basketball?
NB: Probably just the way it allows me to interact with people, playing against good competition. I think that’s something I really like. In AAU, you’re playing against guys like Chet Holmgren and Jalen Suggs in the UAA [Under Armour Association], so playing against those guys and then at USA, playing against the top-50 dude in my class — all just playing together and having a great time. It’s super competitive, but at the same time it’s just a cool experience to play against these guys that are just as good as you or even better than you.
PI: Describe your greatest all-time memory on the basketball court.
NB: Probably at the LSI [Les Schwab Invitational] — I think I had a 40 point game, a 30-point game, 20, then like 30 again. It was just a great stretch. We were playing against some really good teams: Clackamas — a 6A school; we played Bishop Gorman, we were right there with them down to the final minute; and we played Churchill, who’s in our league. They’re really good and we beat them by like 20 in that tournament. So it was just a great team tournament. My team played great. It was just a great experience.
PI: How was your experience participating in the Les Schwab Invitational this past December?
NB: So Les Schwab is like one of the biggest west coast tournaments with the best high school teams. Oak Hill has been there, Montverde, the U-Sharks from Florida, and it’s just a lot of the best teams in the country that come there and play. And a couple local Oregon high schools get to play against them. I think for how small of a school we [Crater HS] are, we put up a good fight against teams like Bishop Gorman. So for people that don’t know, it’s a super competitive tournament — I mean there’s top-50 ranked recruits there and the gym is just packed, super loud, and it’s just a great experience for a high school player.
PI: Why do you wear #32? Is there a story behind it?
NB: My mom and dad were both #32. I look up to my dad and mom, so it’s just something I wanted to wear after them. It’s been a great number for me so far, so I want to keep it rolling in the family.
PI: What were your biggest takeaways from the USA Basketball U16 tryouts last summer? How was it different from the minicamps you’ve participated in?
NB: So, U16s is like the best 12 or so out of all the guys that tried out...and it was just super competitive every day. You’re waking up and you’re going to play. You’re going against guys that are a lot bigger than you, physically. It’s just a great experience for players because it also helps you get prepared for your high school season and then eventually for going to college. It’s just a great experience. Also, being able to represent where you’re from is pretty cool, since I’m from a small town. You’ve just got guys from all over the country representing their cities.
PI: Who stood out most to you at that camp?
NB: Jalen Duren. He’s just super physical and big. He has a great game.
PI: Do you feel like you still have some unfinished business at the high school level?
NB: Yeah, I think we do — just back to what I was saying with how we were on a roll this last year at state. I remember the day coach said that we weren’t going to be playing: we were at a shootaround, like 20 or 30 minutes into it. We saw coach go out on the phone and me and all of my teammates kind of looked at each other and kept going. Then he came back in and said “set the balls down.” Then we all just kind of looked at each other and knew what was happening. So that really sucked. I think we had a really good chance to win it. I was hoping this [upcoming] year we’d have another chance at it since we weren’t able to finish the job last year, but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to play, so...
PI: What all do you hope to accomplish before graduating a little less than a year from now?
NB: I want to try and win a state title — and probably win state trophies and awards, and stuff like that. I want to put where we’re from on the map.
PI: If your senior season at Crater were to be cut short or canceled due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, would you consider alternative options for the 2020-21 season?
NB: There’s a couple options me and my family are looking at, but we haven’t made a decision quite yet.
PI: What makes West Coast Elite unique as an AAU program?
NB: Coach [Ryan] Silver puts you in front of the best college coaches every game. He also doesn’t only care about how you do on the court. He cares about off the court, too — like how you’re doing in school, just checking up on you every couple weeks, just calling even though we’re not playing just to stay in contact and stuff like that. He’s just an awesome coach.
PI: Over the years, which players have you enjoyed competing against on the Under Armour circuit?
NB: I would like to say Chet [Holmgren], but...that was something I was looking forward to this year just because we are so similar as players. We can both shoot, finish at the rim, and block shots. We're both super tall and lengthy. So I was looking forward to playing against him this spring and summer, but it’s not going to be able to happen I don’t think.
PI: In your opinion, who are the best five bigs in the nation in the 2021 class?
NB: Well, if you count Chet as a big even though he’s a power forward — Chet, me, Paolo [Banchero]. Probably Kaden Perry. He’s a little bit underrated, but I like his game a lot...just super athletic. I probably don’t have a fifth, but us four are the top actual “bigs” in our class.
PI: Where do you feel like you need to make the biggest strides as you transition to the college game and then beyond?
NB: I think just building more muscle. I think that’s a big part of college and the NBA, just how physical you can be and how good of shape you have to be in. I think the next levels are just super fast — you have to be in shape. It’s just every day, like go, go, go — you’re waking up and doing workouts and stuff like that. So I think it’s that type of stuff.
PI: Who in the NBA best resembles your game?
NB: KD, for sure. I mean tall, lengthy, can shoot the ball, has moves and finishes at the rim, good defender. I think I model my game a lot after him.
PI: You’ve now narrowed your list to four schools. Talk a little bit about what attracts you to each program.
NB: I think with all four programs, they’ve all showed me videos and stuff of how I’m going to play for them, how they’ve coached bigs that can shoot and stuff like that. UCLA, just a great campus — same with Oregon, Gonzaga, and Arizona. All of the coaches have just been building a relationship with me and I think that has been a big part of my recruitment, just building those relationships with each coach. And I felt like those four coaches — from Oregon, Arizona, Gonzaga, and UCLA — all did a great job of that, building a relationship with me. It’s just a great opportunity, I’m very thankful for it. It’s just something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, to play for a west coast school.
PI: What are the factors you’re valuing the most as you look to make your final decision? What are the non-negotiables?
NB: What I want from a college is a college that will fit my style of play — the way that I can shoot the ball, shoot midrange, finish at the rim, post up, play defense with my length, being able to help and block shots, and stuff like that — being able to play the way I’ve been playing for the past four or five years. Also, a program that will help me pursue my basketball career into the NBA. Also a place that’s going to keep me working, getting me stronger, a great strength program, and stuff like that.
PI: Why west coast?
NB: For my family. I want my family to be able to go to my games. I don’t know, I just like the west coast. I like the beaches, I like the warm weather, and I just want to have my family close to me.
PI: Of all the visits you’ve taken so far, what’s the most memorable moment you’ve experienced?
NB: I think with all the schools it was when coaches showed me how I would fit into their program. They’d have video clips of bigs from their program that play how I play. So that was something that I really looked at, like “okay, this coach has coached someone that plays like me and he knows how to use them.”
PI: How do you envision your timeline playing out with your recruitment?
NB: It all just depends on what I’m doing for school this year. So I honestly don’t really know yet. It’s probably going to have to be something that me and my family talk about in a couple months.
PI: What are you most interested in or passionate about outside the game of basketball?
NB: My dad’s been golfing a lot lately with some of his friends, so that’s something that I’ve started to kind of pick up on. I just started going with them and I’ve gone out quite a bit, now. I do that in my free time. I think with golfing, it’s just something me and my dad can do other than basketball. Just something relaxing for us to go do.
PI: If you were going to do anything other than basketball for a career, what would it be?
NB: I might try to go back to baseball and be a pitcher. I was a pitcher up until freshman year and then I just started playing basketball full time. So maybe go back and be a pitcher, or pursue online business and have my own online clothing brand or something like that.
PI: What were your pitches?
NB: I could throw a fastball, curveball, changeup — sometimes a knuckleball, when I was younger.
PI: If you woke up tomorrow to see $10 million in your bank account, what would be your first purchase?
NB: I’d probably go buy a houseboat, a nice surf boat, some jet skis, and a couple surfboards and wakeboards.
PI: Tell us something about yourself that most people have no idea about.
NB: That I golf a little bit! It’s something that I literally started three or four months ago, just cause it was something that was open during COVID. Me and my friends used to go bowling and stuff, but that all shut down. So me and all my friends just kind of got into golf, and so has my dad, so it’s just been something we’ve been doing through this pandemic.
PI: What advice do you have for the young hoopers looking up to you as a role model?
NB: Just keep working. Opportunities can come late. My dad, for an example, got cut from the basketball team in middle school. He made freshman team and was always a low-level player up to that point, but he just kept working and getting better than everyone else and he ended up starting either his junior or senior year. He just had a great ending to his high school career and ended up getting offers. He went to go play JuCo and then ended up at OIT [Oregon Institute of Technology]. He had offers to go play D1, but never took them. And that just showed that he worked from nothing to having D1 offers. That story is something that means a lot to me — that he just worked super hard and just kept getting better and better. So if he can do it, then anyone can.
Watch the full interview with Nathan, here