It was a long and winding road, but Maarty Lenuen has reached the end. He will be a Duck. In front of 100-plus friends and family and a regional television audience, the versatile 6-foot-9, 210-pound combo forward from Redmond, Ore. announced that he had verbally committed to the University of Oregon.
"I'm excited to say that I'll be joining Coach Kent and the Oregon Ducks," said Leunen with a smile as he grabbed a green Oregon cap out of a bag and put it on his head to the sound of loud cheers. "It will be nice to play where all my family and friends will be able to watch me. Oregon's got a strong program and they've got good academics, so I thought it would be best for me. I'm just excited to be a college student and live the life of a college athlete, being able to go to practice, work out, and play in games and everything."
There were many factors that went into Leunen's choice of Oregon. "Academics -- I haven't decided my major yet, but I'm thinking Business or Sports Marketing, and right now they're ranked number one," said Leunen. "I like the Pac-10 and I'm anxious to get suited up and go out for a Pac-10 championship."
But the close proximity to his family in Redmond ended up being perhaps the biggest thing. "Location -- it was kind of a big thing," said Leunen. "There's a lot of fan support here and it would be difficult to go somewhere else and gain the reputation that you already have here. Plus, I have three younger brothers, so if I go somewhere far away, it'd be impossible to ever watch them play a sporting event."
Leunen took four official visits in the process, visiting each of UCLA, Gonzaga, Oregon, and Oregon State. As it turned out, Leunen's trip to Eugene was somewhat of a turning point in his decision-making process. "All the official visits I had a good time, but (at Oregon) I had more opportunities to work out with the guys, hang out with the guys," said Leunen.
"It made me feel better about going to Oregon. I had a better gut feeling for them and I felt that I'd be more comfortable there. Each of the schools had their pros and cons, but I had to go with the gut feeling."
From his visit, he was also able to get a good feel of how the Ducks players and staff operate - something that made an indelible imprint since it was he was familiar with. "I'm joining a team that you can definitely tell they're all about teamwork and team chemistry," said Leunen.
"That was a big part of it because I come from Redmond and that's how we win games -- because of team chemistry and hard work. And you could definitely tell that those guys are like that. I had good time hanging out with them and they felt like players like I am. I know Oregon is more 'team'. They have star players too, but you could never tell that Luke Jackson was a star player by talking to him."
No one knew except those in Leunen's inner circle knew what his decision was until the very end. While he had actually made his choice after a meeting with his parents back on Sunday night, he kept his pick close to the vest until his Wednesday press conference, even refraining from calling Coach Kent with his decision until the night before. It was a call that got the normally mild-mannered Kent giddy with excitement.
"I called him 10:30 last night when he was in Las Vegas at a meeting," said Leunen. "He was really excited, going 'Oh My Gosh, I'm so excited' and saying it's the best decision I've ever made, and talking about all these plans he's got going on for me. You could tell he was definitely excited."
Keeping the secret from everyone else was tough though -- but the chance to deliver the news the way he did at the press conference to his friends and family who didn't know was worth it. "I really didn't tell anybody -- I told my parents and one of my friends because he overheard, and that was pretty much all," said Leunen. "I just tried to keep it away from everybody so it would be a special moment."
Leunen is Oregon's third commitment from the Class of 2004, joining wings Bryce Taylor and Chamberlain Oguchi. With Leunen's commitment, Ernie Kent's recruiting this year is now complete. "He's going to keep his two (remaining) scholarships for next year," said Leunen. "So they're all done."
And now with his decision in the books, the weight is now off of Leunen's shoulders and he can go on and enjoy his senior season. "These last couple of days have been relieving because I knew my decision was made, and the only thing I had to do was tell the coaches and (have the press conference)," said Leunen. "Now I'm just looking forward to spending time with my classmates, getting together with my teammates again, defend our state championship and have a good time.