Cool hand Lukes
• UO foes pick up the pieces after encountering two emerging stars
EUGENE Ñ Luke Jackson never met Luke Ridnour before each made his recruiting visit to the University of Oregon two years ago. Now?
'He's unlike anybody in the country,' Jackson says. 'He's a really special player.'
It takes a Luke to know a Luke, and Oregon's Lukes have grown mighty close on and off the court since arriving in Eugene.
'We're pretty close friends,' Ridnour says. 'We're the same kind of people. Low-key, love the game. So we hit it off from the start. We roomed together last year and room together this year with James (Davis) and Jay (Anderson).'
Two Lukes, together on one mission: elevate Oregon basketball to national status. It started last year, when Ridnour and Jackson took their lumps in their first go-round the Pacific-10 Conference but still made the league's all-freshman team.
The mission has continued this year. The Ducks have blitzed each Pac-10 team to enter McArthur Court and share the league lead at 10-4 with four games to play.
With a chance to play in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 title next week Ñ which should be the case after the Ducks face Washington State and Washington this week Ñ it sure appears that Oregon landed something special in the small-town Lukes. Ridnour came from the Washington border town of Blaine. Jackson moved up to Eugene from Creswell.
The Oregon players who share the same first name are not the most mysterious guys around, except maybe for concealing exactly when and where they conspired to sport the same hairdo Ñ bushy and curly.
The ballyhooed Ridnour, a McDonald's All-American in high school, has emerged as one of the West Coast's premier point guards. Jackson, an Oregon Class 3A legend, has risen to become one of the Pac-10's most versatile forwards.
Jackson (16.0 points per game) and Ridnour (15.1) are second and third, respectively, in scoring for the Ducks behind Freddie Jones' 18.0. A passing whiz, Ridnour ranks fourth in the league with five assists per game.
The 6-foot-7 Jackson plays guard, defends small forwards and power forwards, and can shoot the 3-pointer and drive to shoot over posts in the paint. In fact, a driving jumper with defenders in his face has become his trademark shot.
'He uses his size so well,' Ridnour says. 'He's got the little shot fake to get the guy off his feet, and the fade to (the shot). He gets to the middle, he's tough to defend.'
Jackson brags about playing point guard at Creswell, where he twice earned Class 3A player of the year honors. Ridnour chuckles and responds: 'I don't know if he was a point guard. He thinks he's a point guard.'
It shows Jackson's versatility. Small-town point guard makes good as starting forward on the country's 15th-ranked team.
'I try to do a little bit of everything,' Jackson says. 'I try to take what (the defense) gives me, and sometimes I feel I can get in there and get somebody in the air. There aren't a lot of 6-7 guards, and it's a matter of me recognizing the mismatch. And, if they leave me, I'm going to nail down a jumper.'
Ridnour and Jackson spent hours in the weight room and playing basketball last summer, and each claims to be markedly stronger. It shows on the court, where Ridnour averages 33.8 minutes and Jackson 30.
'I'm a lot stronger, and being stronger helps out so many parts of your game,' Jackson says. 'I feel like I can play 40 minutes every night.'
In two years, Ridnour and Jackson hope to be pursuing NBA careers. If not, Jackson has a fallback.
'I have been offered money,' he says, to play pro baseball, as a pitcher. 'I'm 6-7 and left-handed. If you can throw hard, you're a rare commodity. I threw in the high 80s in high school, and I'm stronger now, and I'm sure I can work my way up.
'Baseball will still be there for me, which is kind of an exciting thing to think about. I kinda miss it.'
Just think: Oregon might be minus one Luke if Creswell native Mark Few had his choice. Few, now Gonzaga's head coach, recruited Jackson heavily.
Running the fast break with Luke Ridnour or Gonzaga's Dan Dickau? Nice options. 'I actually talked to Blake (Stepp) about where he was going,' he says, referring to the Zags' off-guard from South Eugene. 'It was a combination of things, a really tough decision, because there are so many things I liked about both places.'
Last year against Washington, Jackson opened some eyes when he notched a triple double, the 14th in the Pac-10 since 1985. The other day, an ESPN commentator called Jackson 'a poor man's Mike Dunleavy.' Jackson didn't seem flattered at all, saying that ESPN at least was finally talking about the Ducks in a positive manner.
Jackson and Ridnour are convinced that the Ducks can reach the top 10 and stay there in the next two seasons.
'We've got good people right now, but there are no limits to our team,' Ridnour says. 'We have to prove ourselves down the stretch, though.'