Singler, UO stars from past reunite in benefit

Jackson, Ridnour, Brooks among those who come together in benefit against prep stars

EUGENE — Luke Jackson looked around at the crowd that more than filled the seats at Churchill High School's gymnasium, and didn't attempt to hide his pleasure.

"It's a celebration of basketball and I really appreciate the turnout," Jackson said of Sunday's exhibition game. "I'm just really happy, not just for (Northwest Christian University) but for the community and all the guys" who played in the game.

"Every one of these guys put their blood, sweat and tears out there for the fans while they were at Oregon," Jackson added. "It's nice for them to come back and play in front of all the people who supported them over the years.

"I thought if we got the right (players), that people would show up."

There certainly appeared to be numerous winners, and well beyond the 130-119 triumph for the team of former college players who were on the court against a team of high school all-stars in "Barnstorm 2013."

If the goal was to raise funds for scholarships at NCU, where Jackson this spring became the head coach, selling about as many tickets as feasible had to more than meet expectations. For the UO graduates who made up most of the post-collegiate team, it was quite the reunion.

"I never get to come back and I have a lot of friends here and it's always great to see everybody and get reunited with everybody," Bryce Taylor said. "I hope we'll be able to do something like this every summer and get it bigger and bigger."

The span of former Ducks who were on the court ranged from A.D. Smith, whose playing days at Oregon date to 1995, to Medford's E.J. Singler, who completed his career this season. The final count was eight of the top 20 scorers in Oregon history making an appearance on the court.

The high school team even had its Duck, in A.J. Lapray, who has enrolled for summer school at Oregon in preparation for his first season of playing college hoops.

"It was a great experience to play against some of the best players to come out of (the UO program)," Lapray said. "It was great to see so many fans turn out."

What those in attendance watched was hardly basketball at its most competitive, but it was an all-star game after all, and neither team did any type of practicing as a unit.

"You got to play basketball, so it's the same thing," Aaron Brooks, who was waived by the Houston Rockets on Sunday, said. "This is more structured than playing five-on-five pick-up games, with the refs and everything.

"Mostly it's just about the cardio (training), and I need that. It's the summer but I've been getting back into it. I've been working out about three days."

That would be about three more than Luke Ridnour said he's spent in basketball workouts, with his offseason time so far putting an emphasis on his three young sons. But he wasn't about to miss the chance to help his former teammate, when asked to participate.

"I wanted to support what Luke's doing," Ridnour said. "He's a good man and what he's doing is awesome. I'm excited to see him as a head coach.

"I told him I'd be out of shape but I'd be here for him."

Ridnour, who left UO a decade ago with a year of eligibility remaining and has played in the NBA every year since, said this trip was his first back to Eugene.

"It's been a long time, that's for sure, but it's fun to be back," said Ridnour, who started every game for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. "It's a good thing how supportive the fans have always been for us, and so if we can give back to the community a little bit, that only makes it better."

The basketball was at times sloppy, there were 3-pointers that might not normally be attempted and the referees didn't wear out their whistles. But who came to see defense or free throws?

Fans were there to watch Taylor go flying in from the wing for a dunk, and for another of those Luke-to-Luke passes, if not every potential assists got converted into points. Brooks reminded everyone, including his defender, of his quickness on a spin move that took him to the hoop and later it was a good thing Singler was ready for a behind-the-back pass that was on the spot to set up a layup.

Shoot, Jordan Kent brought back memories of all the hustle plays he made on a court before he switched to football.

Surely, the high school all stars had their moments. South Eugene's Mason Green-Richards hit an early 3 to give the high school team an immediate lead and hit a couple more later. Malik Morgan of Churchill offered examples of the quickness and guile that made him such a challenge for prep opponents.

And as a hint of Jackson's ability to judge talent, he swung a decidedly one-way trade at halftime, moving Springfield girls star Mercedes Russell from the prep team to his squad. The second half then opened with Joevan Catron feeding Russell, who is headed to Tennessee, for a layup, and then she snuck outside and hit a couple of threes.

But ultimately, did the basketball really matter that much?

"Probably the best thing is we get to start something that can maybe become some kind of tradition," said Kenya Wilkins, the former Duck listed as the coach of the former collegians, though he said his assignment was "hanging out on the bench.

"We hear about those programs that have had success for a long period of time and they do things every year. This could be the start of that, and talking to some of the guys on the bench, it doesn't matter what coach you played under, we're all Oregon (alums) "¦ and they've come back to a place that was very good to them. I appreciate it as a peer and as a member of the community."


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