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Luke Jackson storms into new career as college coach

Former Ducks star and friends will compete against top preps in fundraiser for his Northwest Christian team


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - As a player, Luke Jackson fueled many a win for the Oregon Ducks. Now he's head coach at Northwest Christian University in Eugene.A recent trip to the grocery store produced more than fruit and vegetables for former Oregon Ducks basketball star Luke Jackson.

Not far from the checkout stand, Jackson bumped into Northwest Christian University athletic director Corey Anderson, who wound up checking him out. Anderson was stepping down as NCU's men's basketball coach, and would Jackson have any interest in the job?

A few days later, after the two had talked it over some more, the 31-year-old former Creswell High star had the job — his first as a coach. It meant hanging up the sneakers as an oft-injured, world-traveling pro player, but Jackson was ready.

"I had been praying for something I could sink my teeth into, that I could be passionate about and that could make me walk away from the game," he says. "And I was hoping it would be coaching."

Jackson had another year on his pro contract is Israel, but it would have been a challenge physically and in other ways — he and wife Lindsey were expecting their second child (son Calvin was born June 19 and has joined big brother Cole, 2).

Jackson's new job is five minutes from the family home in South Eugene.

"I'm very fortunate to be in this position," he says. "It's a great opportunity for me."

Jackson has been busy, doing everything from recruiting to fundraising, which is the reason that he is playing host to a Barnstorm All-Star Game this weekend at Churchill High.

The event, which starts at 7 p.m. Sunday, will include a game of two 20-minute halves between a team of top Oregon high school players and a "barnstorming" squad consisting of Jackson's friends and former teammates.

Coming to lend their support for the former UO All-American-turned-head coach are Luke Ridnour, E.J. Singler, Aaron Brooks, Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor, A.D. Smith and others.

Most of the prep players are from Eugene schools, but the team also will have scoring leader Alex Roth from West Salem, Nate Sherwood from West Albany and possibly a couple of Jefferson players, all wearing their schools' home white jerseys.

The high school squad also will include Mercedes Russell, the 6-6 national girls player of the year from Springfield High who is bound for the Tennessee Volunteers.

"She's a friend of mine," Jackson says. "Her family asked me for some help in the recruiting process, and she comes into our gym and works out some. She's such a great female athlete, why not have her come be a part of this?

"It should be a fun game for everybody involved. I'm excited to see how some of the best high school players and incoming college freshmen do."

Jackson will play, too.

As a four-year Duck star (2000-04), he filled the stat sheet, averaging 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.4 steals per game for his career. The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him in the first round, 10th overall, in 2004. The 6-7 left-hander bounced around in the NBA, led the D-League in 3-point shooting in 2007, won a D-league title with the Idaho Stampede in 2008, was a D-League All-Star in 2010 and then played in Italy and Jerusalem.

His professional playing career lasted nearly a decade, even though it didn't get off to a healthy start.

"My first day in the NBA I herniated two discs in my back," he says. "My body doesn't allow me to play professionally anymore — I've had a couple of back surgeries, a torn hamstring, ankle problems. I'm at peace with not playing only once a week. I'm not that out of shape.

"I was fortunate to kind of limp through a nine-year professional career, but I started thinking about coaching right from the start. I kept a journal and took advantage of coaches meetings and being around all my coaches, from the NBA to the minor leagues and Europe."

Jackson played for Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Mike Brown, Mike Dunleavy, Sam Mitchell, Mike Woodson, Doc Rivers and Tom Izzo and others.

"I've got a lot of respect for a lot of different coaches," he says. "So I'll steal a thing here and a thing there. But I'm gonna be me, just try to be genuine."

He won't turn 32 until Nov. 6, and he probably could pass for 22. That and his many experiences in the game should help him as a coach, he says.

"Having been a player, I think I can relate to the process of a rigorous practice schedule and understanding when to push a guy and when to back off," Jackson says. "And I think I'll be able to relate to the players."

Hey, if Jason Kidd can get hired fresh off the playing court by the Brooklyn Nets, why can't Jackson get the job done leading the Beacons?

"I'm not naive to the fact that a lot of former players don't make great coaches," Jackson says, "but it's not really about me, anyway, it's about how I can help the players get better."

Jackson will have at his right hand former Ducks assistant coach Fred Litzenberger, who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

"He's been a tremendous mentor to me already," Jackson says. "I've played for NBA Hall of Fame coaches and great college coaches and USA teams and teams overseas, but Coach Litz is one of the best fundamental teachers I've ever been around. I'm lucky to have him."

Northwest Christian plays in one of the best NAIA Division II men's basketball leagues in the country. The Cascade Collegiate Conference includes three-time NAIA Division II champion Oregon Tech and other schools that are often in the national rankings — such as Eastern Oregon, Warner Pacific, Southern Oregon and Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash.

The Beacons were 3-15 in league (next-to-last place) a year ago and 9-21 overall.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Jackson says.

The coaching in the conference is stellar, too. Jackson is "only" 987 career victories behind OIT's Danny Miles, the dean of the conference and second-winningest college basketball coach all-time.

Miles quickly welcomed Jackson into the coaching fold.

"Danny reached out and said congratulations and good luck," Jackson says.

Jackson is close to another coach in the conference: Corban's Steve Masten is his father-in-law. Jackson played against his son, former Oregon Stater Adam Masten, in Civil War competition.

The shift from playing to coaching is going fairly seamlessly, Jackson says.

"A lot of great people work here," he notes. "It's been an easy transition."

One of his personal philosophies about coaching: "I'm treating it with the same approach I had when I was playing, trying to transfer those principles."

Last spring, he got thrown into the recruiting waters, and learned to swim.

"I'm excited about the guys we have coming in," he says.

The list of new Beacons includes two transfers from Oregon: former Westview High center Austin Kuemper, 6-9, who played in nine games for the Ducks last season, and Coleton Baker, a 6-3 guard from Oakland High in Sutherlin who played in 12 UO games after spending two years at Umpqua Community College.

NCU's freshman class will include 6-5 wings Callvin Anderson of Horizon Christian and Nathaniel Sutherland from Westside Christian.

Jackson got the idea for a fundraiser barnstorming game from both his playing days and legendary college coach Roy Williams, who had a similar game when he coached at Kansas and elicited help from Jackson's pro friends and former Jayhawks Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison.

"Kevin Love played as a 15-year-old freshman in one game we did around here — and did pretty well against Cory Violette, who had just graduated from Gonzaga," Jackson recalls. "And Jeremiah Dominguez (a point guard from South Salem High) scored 50 points in a game we had at Creswell."

Jackson predicts that the competitive juices will flow in Sunday's game (tickets are $12 for general admission and $25 for preferred seating). He still has some of those, although he's translating them to his work on the bench with a clipboard and a whistle.

"I still have that huge competitive drive," Jackson says, "and that goes into everything, from recruiting to making sure the guys are getting better both in the classroom and on the court.

"I have zero pride when it comes to being a player anymore. I have nothing to prove. But I do have something to prove as a coach."

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