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2019 top-10 prospect makes big call to take 'pressure off'

Luke Jackson (right) celebrates a goal during the NAB AFL Under-17 All Stars match - AFL,Draft
Luke Jackson (right) celebrates a goal during the NAB AFL Under-17 All Stars match

LUKE Jackson was in Argentina playing for Australia at the under-17 basketball World Cup in July. He was playing well, too, being one of the stars as his side – and the country – finished sixth overall. But his mind was wandering elsewhere.

Weeks earlier, Jackson had played for Western Australia at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, as football tried to woo him to choose it as the sport he pursued professionally. 

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He had known for some time that he would need to make a call eventually, and the 2019 draft prospect wasted no time in doing so following the basketball tournament.

"We went back to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and the basketball guys thought I was going to stay there, but I rang mum that night and said I wanted to go with footy," Jackson told AFL.com.au

"I told the head of the AIS the next morning. I said it was a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I stayed a couple of days afterwards to play a couple more games to finish it off and thought it would be pretty bad of me to just leave." 

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The 198cm teenager had known his decision was imminent. He had always played basketball before then taking up football as a 13-year-old. 

His efforts for WA at the start of the under-18 carnival, playing as a leaping and athletic ruckman, had given him the belief if he followed football career he could get to the top level. Plus, the chance to stay at home without moving internationally for basketball also appealed. 

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"You always think about family and where you would be if you had them. And I think if you have an opportunity to play at the highest level of a sport with your family around is pretty cool," he said.

"It was really important in getting to know how hard it is to play at under-18s level and having a bit of experience will help me a lot. 

"Even through the middle of the basketball tournament, where I was even surprised by my own performances because I didn't think I would go that well, I was always thinking of footy in the back of my head." 

Now committed to just one sport, the East Fremantle prospect looms as a possible top-10 pick in next year's pool.

He trained with the Dockers earlier this month as part of the NAB AFL Academy experience, and last week spent days at West Coast, where the West Australian under-18 squad trained. 

Still raw, Jackson is aiming to add more elements to his game next year and feels there are many ways his basketball background comes through on the field. 

"As a follower I like to base my game on all of that stuff, and my ability around the ground and being that extra option," he said.

"That's one of my goals next year – to become a forward/ruck and not just a ruck, and not be limited to just one position. 

"Now that I'm just focusing on one spot I'm going to put everything into this year, get the best out of myself and hopefully have a good, consistent year."