Jackson gets ready to be the lone Luke
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
• UO's hot-shooting senior feels good about his new teammates
EUGENE Ñ It's a sunny afternoon in the Willamette Valley, and Luke Jackson is bolting a black roll bar on his topless 1970 Ford Bronco.
Nate Smith, a roommate in his Eugene rental home, helps with the wrenching.
'Want to wash it, too, Nate?' Jackson asks.
'Nah,' Smith says.
Jackson proudly displays his first picture with the white Bronco, a revered vehicle among the country set.
'Bought it from a farmer,' the Creswell native says. 'I've been restoring it, little by little.'
Quickly, Jackson turns to his favorite topic. On Saturday, he will join 16 other players at the USA Basketball camp in Orlando, Fla. Twelve of them will make the Pan American Games team.
Jackson cracks a grin when asked whether he expects to survive the cut and play for the United States early next month in the Dominican Republic. The 6-7 guard says head coach Tom Izzo, of Michigan State, and assistant Quin Snyder, of Missouri, already have given him the ol' wink-wink.
'They made me feel pretty good about making it,' he says.
The international competition would only enhance Jackson's rŽsumŽ, which should be pretty full by the time he leaves Oregon next spring.
If he averages about 24 points per game in his senior year, Jackson could become Oregon's all-time leading scorer.
He also wants to lead the country in 3-point shooting and to make 45 percent of his 3-point attempts. He shot .363 last season.
If the Ducks win the Pacific-10 Conference title and make it back to the NCAA Tournament, the critics will have to say that Jackson led them without the help of the ubiquitous other Luke.
Perhaps then Jackson would go on to be selected in the first round of the 2004 NBA draft and join his former running partner, Luke Ridnour of the Seattle SuperSonics, with the best players in the world.
As Jackson sits in the shade, chewing on a piece of long grass, he ponders the idea that he could have joined Ridnour in this year's draft. Some NBA scouts told Jackson they would have taken him in the first round, too.
It also stung when UCLA's Jason Kapono went early in the draft's second round. Jackson isn't one to pat himself on the back, but he has more game than Kapono, except for the consistent long ball.
'I wanted to get my degree,' Jackson says, explaining why he chose to stay at Oregon. 'And I couldn't fly around and work out for NBA teams. It cost money. That's why Ridnour signed with an agent, although he was pretty set' on entering the draft.
Jackson attended a recent Nike basketball camp in Indianapolis and will go to Michael Jordan's camp in Santa Barbara, Calif., next month.
By working with weights, he has gained about 10 pounds, with more broadness in his chest. He also has been playing pickup ball with his fellow Ducks.
The versatile Jackson, who could finish among the top 10 in Oregon history in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, sees his NBA ticket punched through his ability to shoot the 3-pointer.
'I've got to be a specialist at something in the NBA,' he says.
Jackson misses his buddy Ridnour, but he grew tired of the Luke and Luke hype. The fun, run and gun hasn't left the Ducks with Ridnour's departure, he says. Two incoming freshmen, point guard Aaron Brooks and forward/center Ray Schafer, will play right away, complementing the likes of Jackson, Ian Crosswhite, James Davis and others.
'Schafer's a 7-footer who has what some of our big men haven't had ÑÊgreat hands; he can run and he understands how to pass the ball,' Jackson says. 'In a couple years, I think he's going to be a great player; he plays like a Curtis Borchardt (of Stanford).'
Schafer may be more ready to play next year than fellow freshman Mitch Platt, a power forward, Jackson says.
Jackson says that at 5-9 Brooks, who is shorter than his listed 5-11, 'is a complete player. He drives and gets his shots up, and he's quick enough and athletic enough to get out and run. He's athletic enough, you can throw him a lob.'
And he'll dunk it.
'He's definitely capable of starting,' Jackson says, 'it's just him figuring out how to lead the team. That's what Luke was really good at Ñ learning when to score, to get a guy a shot and distribute Ñ but it took Luke some time to figure it out.'
The Ducks should be full of athletes, including freshmen Jordan Kent, a guard, and Adam Zahn, a forward, coming off redshirt years.
'Zahn jumps better than Freddie Jones,' Jackson says, inviting raised eyebrows. 'It's true. Freddie could jump good off one leg and in the open court. But Adam's just explosive.'
Jackson is eager for next season, his last at McArthur Court. He wishes, somehow, the Ducks could play Gonzaga, where his buddy Blake Stepp plays. Stepp will also be among the 17 players at the USA camp.
Jackson says he tried to start 'some bad blood' between Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who hails from Creswell and who recruited him, and the UO coaches.
'I said, 'You're afraid to play us,' ' Jackson says.
Jackson calls Gonzaga-Oregon 'the biggest rivalry nobody knows about. Ever since they lost Luke and I (in recruiting), there's been a feud.'
The Ducks have two openings on their schedule, but Gonzaga has none.
'We could play one year in Seattle and one in Portland. It would be huge,' Jackson says. 'But the coaches won't do it. Too much at stake. The winning coach could tell a recruit, 'Look, we beat them two times in a row.' '
Jackson plans to earn his degree in political science by March, giving him time after the season to work out for NBA teams.
Political science, huh?
'Maybe I'll come back and be the mayor of Creswell,' he says, jokingly.
He plans to enjoy his last year living near his hometown and around his friends. When Ridnour packed up some of his belongings in their house and headed off to the NBA, 'everybody was really happy for him, but he looked sad,' Jackson says.
Part of Ridnour's life had ended, and he knew he couldn't return. Ridnour even left his room intact, Jackson says, even though he knew his NBA travels would take him elsewhere.
'He grew up in a hurry,' Jackson says. 'It's a good place to be, the NBA, it's not like he's hurting. But it's a different life than going to school and hanging out with your friends.'
Jackson steps inside the door of the house he shares with five students, including teammates Jay Anderson, Matt Short and Andre Joseph.
One Luke is gone, another Luke remains.
'It'll be different this year, for sure,' he says.