NBA-minded Duck aims for tourney first

Luke Jackson may return but knows he can make it as a pro, too

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ñ No decision has been made, the subject has been virtually ignored and Luke Jackson says he might not jump to the NBA, anyway, even if he declares for the league's June draft.

But Jackson can't help but think about his NBA future and where he fits in with the best basketball players in the world.

'I'm going to be a shooter,' he said as the Ducks prepared for their NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional game today against Utah. 'Right now, I focus on going to the boards and playing tough defense, but I can shoot the ball as well as anybody.'

Spotting up? 'Yeah, but I can slash,' the 6-7 junior adds. 'I'm a big guard, a big '2' guard in the NBA. I think I'm ideal size for the '2' guard in the NBA.'

Jackson thinks he definitely can land on an NBA roster.

'When NBA scouts look at me, they see a guy who's a winner and who understands how to play the game,' he says.

On a team with Luke Ridnour, who also will decide whether to go pro early, Jackson might be the Pacific-10 Conference's best all-around player. Consider where Jackson ranks in the Pac-10: ninth in scoring (16.1 points per game), sixth in rebounding (6.9), fifth in steals (1.7), eighth in assists (3.7) and fourth in free-throw percentage (.867).

Flashy? No. Terrific athlete? No. Great at any one thing? No. But the overall Jackson package will be easily sold to an NBA team, Duck coach Ernie Kent says.

'The one thing he does better than any other is, he does everything well,' Kent says.

'I'm doing everything it takes'

Scouts and NBA personnel types say Jackson should be a first-round pick, this year or next. Jackson's spot in the NBA 'comes down to what that particular team is looking for,' Kent says. 'They might lock into a guy like this. He's blossomed in our system. Perfect for our system. It's the same thing in the pros.'

Jackson says he wants to be 'the guy who makes the difference all over the court. I'm going to be just a winner and do whatever it takes.'

Jackson's production tailed off after he suffered a severe laceration on his right ring finger against Washington. He missed one game, then tied his season high with 27 points against UCLA. But tailed off is a relative statement; his scoring average and shooting percentage (.449) barely went down this season, and his rebounding and his assist numbers have got better.

Jackson defiantly defends opponents Ñ and his record, pointing out that 'the last eight games, I've averaged a double-double.'

'People think I'm having an average year,' he says, 'but, in reality, I feel like I'm doing everything it takes for this team to win Ñ getting five to six assists a game, 10 to 11 rebounds. I may not always be the leading scorer, but I'm getting 15, 16 points a game.'

When Fred Jones left for the NBA, Jackson became the No. 2 Duck for opponents to defend.

'The one thing about Freddie, he was such a great passer, too,' Jackson says. 'That's the one thing I miss, having another guy (other than Ridnour) who can attract defenders and pass the ball really well.'

Four factors come into play

Jackson claims that he hasn't made up his mind to return to Oregon. His decision probably will boil down to four things.

1. 'To be honest, I want to be the all-time leader in a lot of (categories) when I leave here,' he says. To be No. 1 in scoring, Jackson would have to play his senior year and average about 22 points per game. He has 1,300 points. Ron Lee is the all-time leader with 2,085.

2. 'I want to win an NCAA title. The personal goals aren't that big of a deal,' he says. Would wanting to be the all-time leader and chasing an NCAA title outweigh the urge to go pro? 'That's a question I have to answer at the end of the season,' he says. 'Going to the NBA has been a dream of mine and Luke's ever since we picked up a basketball.'

3. If Ridnour goes pro, Jackson says his real chance to win the NCAA title next year also leaves. 'Obviously, with Luke leaving, or possibly leaving, it's going to affect my decision,' he says. 'It's up to him,' Jackson adds of his buddy's decision. 'He's had a great year. The NBA is a realistic goal. He's projected to be in the first round.'

4. Money. It may be the reason that Jackson opts for the draft, then backs out (under allowed rules) or sticks it out. 'It depends on how well you do in the (NBA) camps and who you know,' he says.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Ridnour have the NCAA Tournament in mind.

Right now, the NBA draft 'is not what it's about,' Jackson says. 'It's about really enjoying college. Having fun out on the floor. There's been so many games; I look at Luke, we look at each other, and say, 'This is fun. This is great. This is why we play.' '

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