After years of sharing in the misery of the NBA Developmental League with his pals, Luke Jackson was ready for redemption. The year was 2011. The San Antonio Spurs still believed he could play and subsequently offered him a ten day contract. He wanted to finally prove that he could leave his injury-riddled past by the wayside and become a valuable asset to an NBA team.
But as Jackson knows full well, things don’t always go as planned. Playing in what could have been his warmup game before the big leagues, a simple cut to the hoop seemingly ended his hopes of ever playing competitive sports again. Jackson tore every single muscle all the way to the bone in his hamstring and the tendon that connects to his groin shot down his leg.
The doctor said he would never run, let alone play basketball, again.
But accepting his fate is not Jackson’s style. In five months he was able to walk again. Afterward, he set his sights on returning to the court.
Just to prove he could do it and to see a part of the world he’d never experienced, Jackson rehabbed vigorously and was able to play the sport he loves for one final season. He spent the swan song of his hoops career playing for the Euroleague Hapoel Jerusalem B.C. in Israel.
The devout christian got to see in person, places he had only read about in the Bible.
“You would drive down the freeway and a sign says Bethlehem next right.” We even rope swung into the Jordan River,” Jackson said with an air of wonderment. For Jackson, traveling through Europe was just the icing on the cake.
In 2002, a different kind of pain generated an opportunity for him and his Ducks hoops team that had underachieved and gone 14-14 in 2001.
“All of us were just sickened by the fact that we had to stay home for the NCAA tournament. We put in tons and tons of work and all of us got better,” Jackson said.
The result of their hard work was the revitalization of Ducks hoops and an unforgettable season culminated in being selected the number two seed in the NCAA tournament, leading to an appearance in the elite eight.
Jackson’s career at Oregon can be summarized by three facts: He is the 2nd highest all-time Ducks scorer, 4th all-time assist man and 7th all-time rebounder.
The only player in the history of the program to be in the top ten in all three categories is, you guessed it, Luke Jackson.
But records aren’t what he remembers most about his days playing at Mac Court. Instead, it was the scenery that really stood out.
“I’d look around and see one family over here, my best friend on the third balcony, my Dad high fiving. It was a really cool experience,” he said.
Two years after his elite eight run, he was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers 10th in the NBA Draft to be Lebron James’ theoretical running-mate in bringing Cleveland its first ever NBA championship.
Jackson describes draft day as, “like winning the lottery.” “No one deserves $1 million to play a sport.”
But if draft day was like winning the lottery, the rest of his NBA career was like suffering from a perennial cold spell in Vegas.
His first day on the job, Jackson suffered two herniated discs in his back. From there on out, his career was as secure as a Jenga tower after 20 minutes of dislodging pieces, ready to collapse at any moment.
“Every single day I thought this could be over tomorrow,” Jackson said.
Instead of Cavalier championship banners and an illustrious NBA career for Jackson, James left Cleveland ringless and Jackson played exactly 46 games for the team that drafted him.
But just as frustrating as the injuries themselves, was the misconception that he just wasn’t good enough to play at the highest level.
“As a player you want to protect your value, so you say you have a calf injury when you really have a herniated disc.The hardest part was not being able to say, I’m not bad, I’m hurt. Instead I was looked at as a bust.”
“I was better in 8th grade than in the NBA(because of injuries),” Jackson said.
Nevertheless, Jackson carved out a nice little pro career, making north of $6 million and winning the D-League championship in 2008 for the Idaho Stampede. He was also able to play with all three members of the current Miami Heat “Big 3” before they united in South Beach. Along with James in Cleveland, he played with Chris Bosh in Toronto and with Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Following his stint in Israel, Jackson could endure the pain no longer and ended his playing career for good. He decided to move back to the town that has always loved him, Eugene.
One day while shopping for groceries, he ran into Northwest Christian University athletic director and coach, Corey Anderson. Jackson must have made a glowing impression, or was just a remarkably sound shopper, because the next day, Anderson offered him his head coaching position. Jackson accepted.
Nowadays, instead of trying to alter his own legacy, he tries to help a few Division 1 transfers carve out one of their own.
Under Jackson’s tutelage, Spencer Coleman has a chance to repair his ruptured image. Coleman was a solid contributor on the Division 1 University of Montana basketball team, averaging about eight points in 22 minutes per game. However, he was dismissed from the team following multiple bouts with the law including being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and minor in the possession of alcohol.
On the court Coleman has played great, averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. Plus, Jackson believes he has been a great teammate and thinks he has repaired his image.
His other two D-1 transfers came straight from his alma mater. After not receiving much playing time for the Ducks, Austin Kuemper and Coleton Baker have the chance to reshape their college basketball careers at NCU.
So far, they’ve done just that.
Kuemper leads the team in scoring with 19.6 ppg and is second on the team with 9.5 rpg. Baker leads the team in assists and is third on the team with 16.1 ppg.
“Austin and Coleton are everything you could ask for, good role models and good students,” Jackson said.
Though two of his best players played for UO last year, Jackson refuses to believe that UO is an available recruiting bed. He admits that he wouldn’t say no if another Duck came calling, but he won’t target Oregon players either.
Besides, Jackson doesn’t even believe he is the cause of such a stellar recruiting class in his first year. Instead, he believes NCU sells itself.
“The cool thing about NCU is it’s right on the campus at UO. You can still get the big campus feel and go to a private school and get a good education,” Jackson said.
As a first year coach, Jackson realizes he doesn’t have all the answers.
“It’s not gonna be perfect but I’m gonna put my best put forward and believe everything is gonna work out.”
Nevertheless, his team’s results have been staggering. On Friday, the team defeated Southern Oregon, the No. 2 ranked NAIA team in the nation. Earlier this year, they defeated the No. 17 ranked Northwest University. The team is 10-5 overall, and 4-1 in the Cascade Conference, Without Jackson, last year they finished 9-21.
Regardless of winning, Jackson is quite content in his new line of work.
“I love recruiting, helping kids and see them get better and improve,” Jackson said.
“Here’s an opportunity and I’m going to give it everything I have,” he added.
At this point, can anyone honestly tell him otherwise?