Points, rebounds, assists make Duck star of Pac-10
Whether the Oregon Ducks make or miss the NCAA Tournament, which coach could have the audacity to not vote for Luke Jackson for Pacific-10 Conference player of the year?
'He's my pick,' says Oregon State coach Jay John, who watched Jackson score 39 points and grab 16 rebounds last month and then lead the Ducks with 24 points and seven boards in Saturday's 81-74 UO win.
'It's between him and (Ike) Diogu,' John adds, referring to the Arizona State center.
The two top teams, Stanford and Arizona, have such balanced lineups, it would be difficult to pinpoint one standout, John says.
Statistics make a case for Jackson.
'Just look at the numbers,' UO coach Ernie Kent says.
Jackson leads the Ducks in scoring (22.2 points per game), rebounding (7.0) and assists (4.8) Ñ one of only five players in the country to lead his team in all three categories. He also leads the Ducks in steals (20) and free-throw percentage (.872). Jackson, who shoots .508 from the field, is also among the nation's leaders in 3-point field goal percentage at .467.
He's the only player in UO history with more than 1,600 points, 600 rebounds and 300 assists, and he's one of four in Pac-10 history with those numbers Ñ along with Arizona's Sean Elliott, Stanford's Todd Lichti and UCLA's Toby Bailey. By year's end, Jackson should join Elliott in the 1,800 points-700 rebounds-400 assists club.
Interestingly, both Jackson and Diogu could miss the NCAAs. The Sun Devils sit last in the Pac-10, at 8-11 overall and 2-8 in league. And the Ducks (11-6, 6-4) probably need to win at least seven of their next nine games Ñ including a Pac-10 tourney game Ñ to go to the Big Dance.
If the Ducks come up short of the NCAAs, you just hope the Pac-10 coaches still will duly reward the best all-around player in the league.
On the mend
UO point guard Aaron Brooks, out since Jan. 4 with a broken wrist, could resume dribbling and shooting by the end of the week, but 'he's still two to three weeks away' from playing, Kent says. When Brooks returns, he prob-ably will come off the bench.
Kent seems happy with the play of James Davis, who has become the starting point guard since Brooks went down. Davis, the team's best 3-point shooter, will probably stay at the point, although it means that he might not get as many looks from 3-point range.
'Our rotations are set,' Kent says. 'Aaron will give us another energy guy and scorer off the bench. It'll allow us to get deeper on the bench.'
A case could be made that Oregon State has the three most improved players in the Pac-10.
J.S. Nash has improved his shooting to .440 and gives the Beavers a noticeable energy boost. Chris Stephens has exploded onto the scene, averaging 15.7 points per game. But neither has made more strides than junior forward David Lucas, who leads the Beavers with 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and is shooting.545 from the field.
'Hands down, the most improved player in the conference,' Kent says.
Nash and Stephens 'have improved, but David's a legitimate go-to guy,' John adds. 'Teams are changing defenses on David and he's still finding a way to be efficient.'
Case in point, the two Civil War games. The Ducks played in a zone defense last month, and Lucas scored 24 points. They mostly played man-to-man Saturday, and Lucas scored 20, his ninth game with 20-plus points.
Do we see NBA in his future, just like his pop, Maurice Lucas? Well, David isn't as big as Maurice, and he needs to develop an outside shot and a front-up game.
John says Lucas might play some at small forward before the year's out, and certainly next year. 'He's got to work on his ballhandling and vision,' John says. 'It's a whole different perspective with your back to the basket and guys climbing all over you.'
Congrats to coach Michael Holton, who has the Portland Pilots headed in the right direction and has been rewarded with a contract extension. It'll sure help Holton recruit, since he can sit in a prospect's living room and practically guarantee he will be the UP coach. And it might quiet the whispers of people who think Holton could bolt for another Division-I job or NBA assistant position in the near future.
'I'm here, committed to the task at hand,' says Holton, who has a sub-.500 team this year but plenty of promise with super sophs Donald Wilson and Eugene Jeter returning, transfers Darren Cooper and Ben Sullivan eligible next year and forward Marcus Lewis on the way.
Holton also has great support from the new school president, the Rev. E. William Beauchamp, who doesn't pooh-pooh athletics in the name of academics. Now, if only members of an apathetic UP student body would get off their rears and go to games. It's an exciting team out on the Bluff, but it can't reach the next level without some support.
'Unfortunately, we're at a point here where people still come to watch the opposition,' says Holton, referring to large crowds for the Oregon and Gonzaga games. 'I remain optimistic.'
At Portland State, forward Seamus Boxley has been sensational. But scouting has caught up to guard Blake Walker, and point guard Will Funn continues to struggle with turnovers, which goes far in explaining the Vikings' inconsistency.
Walker stills leads the Viks in scoring (15.4), but he has not led the team in scoring in any of the past eight games Ñ a span in which he has averaged 10.5 points and shot just .330 from the floor. And, other than grabbing eight boards at Montana State, he hasn't had more than five rebounds in any of the previous seven games. Funn, meanwhile, has more turnovers (87) than assists (81).