MEL JACKSON, the mother of Melbourne young gun Luke, tried three times without success to say 'thanks, but no thanks', when her son was selected in Western Australia's state 16s program four years ago.
An email congratulating the prodigious teenage basketballer on his selection had been met with confusion, and Jackson decided some downtime was preferable to another sporting commitment.
But Western Australia talent manager Adam Jones persisted, and after the third reply from Jackson's mum he simply requested that he meet with the family to talk through what might be possible.
Jones' persistence paid off, and Jackson – the 2021 NAB AFL Rising Star who was born on Grand Final day in 2001 – now enters the premiership decider as a key member of the Demons' team in just his second AFL season.
"We'd just got back from the 16s state basketball carnival, and I remember Luke was laying on the couch and I came out with my phone and had this email from Adam Jones, who I didn't know," Mel Jackson recalled this week.
"I said, 'Luke, congratulations you've made the state 16s football squad', and he looked at me and said, 'How did I even do that?'
"Luke wasn't really interested and I must have sent Adam three emails, then he called. I said, are you not getting my emails? He was, but he said, 'Can I please come and meet you?
"We laugh about that a bit now and think what if he'd just really dug his toes in and said no and we didn't have that meeting."
Part of Jackson's hesitancy was not wanting to take the spot of a player who was fully committed to football, but he was convinced to at least take part in a 16s scratch match and was promised quick and honest feedback about whether or not he had what it took.
He was outstanding, Jones recalls, and played national carnival matches in Queensland later that year, where he first caught the attention of player manager Jason Dover.
GRAND FINAL PREVIEW Demons v Bulldogs, stats that matter, who wins and why
Having played very little football to that point, the ruckman's impact was limited in matches against Vic Country and Vic Metro, but he showed his potential in one blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment.
"He played this one game where literally had five touches, but one of the five was one of the best bits of play I reckon you'd ever see," Dover said.
"It had Nic Naitanui aspects in that he tapped the ball, roved it himself, spun out of a contest and kicked the goal from 45m on the run.
"I thought, 'He looks pretty interesting', but then he barely touched the ball for the rest of the game and the carnival."
Dover wrote some notes about Jackson and asked around, with East Fremantle sharing his background as a basketballer and the lack of football he'd played.
It only made Dover more interested and excited by what Jackson could become, continuing to monitor him and then signing him as a client during his 17s year.
"By then I reckon he'd played more state games than games at East Fremantle, which made him a completely different prospect," Dover said.
"That's where the AFL Academy and East Fremantle did a really good job in terms of letting him play basketball as a junior but making sure he stayed involved in footy and knew everyone wanted him."
Having made the decision to pursue football, Jackson was in demand in his Draft year, averaging 36.8 hit-outs, 13 disposals, and four clearances in the national under-18s carnival. He bolted up ranking boards and was selected with pick No.3 by the Demons.
In a welcome twist, East Fremantle teammate and good friend Trent Rivers was selected by the Demons at pick No.32 the following day and has been a significant part of coach Simon Goodwin's backline this year.
It is clear now the recruitment of both has been a masterstroke, with the pair moving into a host family arrangement with Debra and Mark Brayshaw alongside fellow draftee Kysaiah Pickett.
The Jackson and Rivers families have grown close too and will sit together at Optus Stadium on Saturday to watch their sons, who debuted together in round two last year and have since played 29 and 33 games respectively.
The pair have developed an interesting relationship according to Rivers' mum Sam, with very different personalities that seem to complement each other.
"Trent's nature is to make sure everyone around him is OK and Luke's just so chilled, so it became a nice fit," Sam said.
"Luke doesn't stress out about anything, whereas Trent likes to be organised and on the ball, so they sort of work well together as a team.
"They also took some comfort in each other being there and just having that history from before they went into the club.
"As they got there and made new connections, they were able to expand and become a little bit more independent and confident, but it was nice for them to have someone to do that with."
Jones travelled to Melbourne earlier this season and caught up with Jackson and Rivers and might quietly have reflected on his persistence back in 2017 and how it has panned out since.
Jackson was "a bit of a favourite" for the talent manager, while Rivers impressed him with his focus and ability to learn the art of balancing attack and defence once he moved from the midfield to half-back.
"Whether it was deliberate or not from Melbourne to draft them together, it was a bonus and it was probably discussed that it will be fantastic to have two mates at the club," Jones said.
"Having grown up together, played with each other, and the families being really close, it has no doubt made the boys feel more comfortable in Melbourne.
"That combined with their natural ability to play the game has been a perfect storm for them to really contribute to where Melbourne have got to this year."