Rid: will this be his last two games at Mac Court?

The U of O men's basketball team faces an all-important two game set later this week against USC on Thursday and UCLA on Saturday. These are the last two games at Mac Court this season, and the last two home games ever for Senior junior college transfers Robert Johnson and Brian Helquist. And possibly the last two games at Mac Court for All-American point guard candidate and leading scorer for the Ducks, Luke Ridnour. Really?

I am not calling this to everyone's attention to be an unnecessary distraction. I'm confident the team will be focused on the task at hand -- to get two wins that will reach the 20 game win mark for the season and an almost certain invitation to return to the NCAA Tournament. The following week the regular season ends against the Arizona schools and is then followed by the Pac-10 Tourney at the Staples Arena in Los Angeles. You can be sure that Ridnour, Jackson and company want to finish strong and enter the post season on a high. But as we watch Luke Ridnour work his magic at Mac Court this February 27th and March 1st, we must be aware that it could be the last time we have the opportunity to witness his high energy, entertaining brand of basketball in Eugene.

Up until now I have put the thought (perish the thought) of Ridnour leaving early for the NBA out of my mind. This season has taken on an interesting life of its own. A lot of optimism after a meteoric start and big win over Kansas on CBS for everyone to see in the Rose Garden was followed by a humbling defeat by Cincinnati on ESPN for everyone plus Dick Vitale to see some areas of weakness in the Duck arsenal. After the loss to the Bearcats I made a positive mental note: both Lukes need another year of seasoning against all forms of competition. The Ducks regrouped and have had a solid season, but their lack of athleticism around the hoop has been exposed and could not always be overcome against the likes of Cal, USC and Washington. Meanwhile, with the hand injury to Luke Jackson taking away a lot of his effectiveness for a time, Ridnour has sometimes just taken over games to secure a victory for the Ducks and it appears his stock has risen.

When one logs on to NBA Draft.net 2003 we see, as of February 24th, Luke Ridnour listed as the #8 draft pick overall by the Atlanta Hawks. Although this is in no way a certainty, as it is only a "mock" draft,and is still four months away, it gives one such as myself a painful possibility to ponder. If this projection is even close to true, would Ridnour be able to turn down the NBA and all it has to offer? Would he stay or would he go?

I believe there is really only one major reason Ridnour would opt for the NBA and it isn't all about money. It is no secret, as evidenced by ESPN's profile of the Ducks in the NCAA Tournament last season, that Luke is not exactly enthralled with academic life. To be playing with and against the best basketball players in the world and getting paid very well for it, or hitting the books for another year at the UO could be, pardon the expression, a "no brainer". Also, Ridnour is rated by some experts as the top junior in the country at this time, and the top player, period, on the west coast. Like the stock market, the perceived value of a player can rise and fall unpredictably and there is no guarantee Luke will be rated as high next year at this time. Although Ridnour should even be better if he stays for his senior year it is hard to know if some other players' stock may rise higher. I think school and how highly he is rated now are Luke's two strongest influences to consider the NBA after this season is over.

But there are other strong influences and considerations. No matter what happens this year, next year's Oregon basketball team should be much improved with the addition of the very athletic red-shirt freshmen Jordan Kent and Adam Zahn, the maturing of Ian Crosswhite, Andre Joseph, Brandon Lincoln and Matt Short, and some talented incoming freshmen in Aaron Brooks, Ray Schafer and Mitch Platt.

Luke Ridnour came to Oregon with three other guys who have become close friends: James Davis, Jay Anderson and, of course, Luke Jackson. It's hard to imagine the Ducks without Luke and Luke. With next year's team there could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, as realistic chance as there can be, to go to the Final Four. If there is a star power forward in the JC ranks that could be lured to the UO this spring it would sure help next year's chances immensely. To finish what he started with his friends has to be a factor. And no matter how enticing the NBA can be there is nothing that compares, as one looks back at their life in sports, as a Final Four appearance and the dream of cutting down the nets after a NCAA Championship. I don't think a NBA Championship ring can compare with that achievement or would be desired more by any kid who grows up playing basketball in America.

As Duck fans we all wish Luke Ridnour the wisdom to make the right decision for himself, his teammates and his family. And the main reason I am writing this at this time is that we all need to take the time to appreciate such a special individual and basketball player as long as he is in our midst. Whether he leaves this year or next it will seem to be all too soon.

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