Stu Jackson was a member of the famous 1970s Ducks basketball team coined the “Kamikaze Kids” under head coach Dick Harter. Known for their aggressive, energetic play, the Kamikaze Kids became the foundation of “the Pit” and the crazy atmosphere in McArthur Court.
After an impressive college career, Stu went on to be an assistant coach for the Ducks. He also coached the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies before entering the NBA’s front office. He is now the Senior Associate Commissioner of the Big East Conference.
I caught up with Stu after meeting him in New York at the Big East Offices to talk about playing for the Ducks and his view of today’s college basketball landscape.
Alex: What is your best memory playing for the Ducks?
Stu: Beating UCLA at home in Mac Court in 1974. It was one of the years that Bill Walton was playing. We had a very good team in our own right during that season and I believe at some point we were ranked ourselves. UCLA was the best team in the country — an iconic team. We really played that day and were fueled by our crowd. It was extraordinary that day. We played our style of play. We frustrated UCLA by making sure the pace was to our liking and grinded it out.
Alex: What is your best memory of Mac Court and why do you say that Duke stole our style at Cameron Indoor Stadium?
Stu: The reason I tell anybody that Duke stole the concept from us, was because Oregon was one of the first places where students actually camped outside the arena the night before to make sure they got the best seats. I can remember going to practice the day before our game and seeing students lined up on the street with sleeping bags anywhere they could put them. Those were some crazy people. Mac Court was something special.
Alex: How do you think Dana Altman has done as a coach of the Ducks?
Stu: I think he’s done a tremendous job. When they hired him after a long, exhaustive search, I really felt at the time that it was a great find for U of O. Amongst the coaching profession, we’ve known for a long time what a tremendous coach he’s been, wherever he’s been. I didn’t have any doubt that he would bring success to Oregon, and he’s delivered.
Alex: How different is it being a player and being a coach?
Stu: Being a D1 college player at a place like Oregon and Mac Court was an experience that most college players don’t get to be a part of. I feel very very fortunate to have been a part of that and even more fortunate to play with guys that will be a part of the rest of my life. It’s special to form those relationships. When you make a decision to coach, you are making a decision to be a leader of young men, and its hard work. The true benefit of coaching is the relationships that you maintain with some of your players. That’s extremely rewarding and enriching and really gives life context.
Alex: What players did you form those relationships with?
Stu: I roomed with Ernie Kent. I consider him the brother I never had. I don’t know if it gets any better than that. I’ll be there for him any time he needs and he would do the same for me. Greg Ballard, Greg Graham, Bruce Coldren. All those guys were like brothers to me, and that’s pretty cool.
Alex: What is your best memory as an assistant coach for the Ducks in the 1980s?
Stu: I don’t have a specific memory, but I ended up working for Jim Haney who is a great man and currently executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He’s a guy that gave me my first opportunity in this business and for that I’m forever indebted.
Alex: What do you see for the future of Ducks basketball?
Stu: I think as long as Dana is there, they are gonna win games. Oregon over the years has not been known as a basketball hot center. Since Ernie Kent took over the program and took the Ducks to two Elite Eights, the school has experienced a level of basketball that I don’t think anyone really anticipated. The past is the best predicter of the future. I don’t have any reason to see why that won’t continue.
Alex: You dealt with rules and regulations in the NBA. What’s your take on the NCAA lowering the shot clock to 30 seconds instead of 35?
Stu: I feel it’s a move in the right direction to speed up the game and perhaps gain a couple possessions per game. But if you really want to change the college game you would need to overhaul the game as a package. On one hand, while it’s great they have gone to a shorter shot clock, they’ve decreased the number of timeouts by one. The key emphasis of this new rules package is the officiating. The enforcement of perimeter and post contact. Change won’t happen overnight. It takes time for coaches to adjust and for there to be a noticeable difference. Furthermore I think there are other rule changes [needed] to make the game more exciting.
Alex: What other rule changes?
Stu: For one, maybe reducing the amount of time to advance the ball in the back court from 10 to eight seconds. I think the game could be made more exciting by allowing teams to advance the ball to the half mark with a timeout. Also, extending the three point line would help spacing in the game. There are a lot of different things that still remain to help improve.
Alex: How do you feel about players staying in college for only one year?
Stu: Staying one year you miss a real opportunity. The moral issue is that it’s very difficult to tell that small group of players that are physically ready to become a professional that they can’t become a professional. There’s a moral duty there. It’s a tough issue. It’s one we talk about a lot but I don’t know the right solution.
Alex: You coached at Wisconsin, but played and coached at Oregon. Who were you rooting for in the NCAA tournament when both teams faced off?
Stu: (Laughs) I can’t say. I’m a winner either way.
Alex: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Stu: Go Ducks!
For more on Stu Jackson and the Kamikaze Kids, check out Michael Bigham’s article.
Top photo from video