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Four years later, Jackson made right move

LAWRENCEVILLE - Austin Jackson's signing with the New York Yankees left Georgia Tech without a true point guard four seasons ago, but there apparently weren't any lingering hard feelings.

When Scranton/Wilkes-Barre opened a series against the Gwinnett Braves on Thursday night, Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt was at Gwinnett Stadium watching his former recruit.

"I think it would have been a lot of fun to play at Georgia Tech," the Scranton center fielder said. "But baseball has really always been my first love."

Because of his dual-sport status, many major league teams shied away from taking Jackson in the 2005 draft. The Yankees, though, weren't one of them.

New York took the fleet Texan in the eighth round, and everyone was a winner except Georgia Tech, which had just lost point guard Jarrett Jack to the NBA a year early.

Jackson, who got a bonus of $800,000 to bypass college, is ranked as the Yankees' top prospect by Baseball America and no one in the International League is likely to question that ranking.

Jackson, 22, went into the weekend fourth in the International League batting race with a .335 average and had 11 stolen bases in as many attempts.

There are still things that Jackson is working on, but no one would be surprised if he was playing center field regularly in the new Yankee Stadium by next season.

Until New York drafted him, though, Jackson seemed determined to play both baseball and basketball in college. It is tough to say no to the Yankees when they start talking money, though.

"I made the right decision," Jackson said. "I realize how hard it would have been to play both sports in college and have time for the academics as well."

Jackson hadn't been back to the Atlanta area since his recruiting visit to Georgia Tech. While on campus, he made a stop at Chandler Stadium in addition to Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

The point guard's basketball choice came down to the Yellow Jackets and Illinois. It really wasn't a hard one.

"It was too cold up there," Jackson said of Illinois.

Going to Georgia Tech would have not only meant better weather, but the chance to play ACC basketball and baseball.

When he played in the Eastern League for Trenton last season, Jackson said former Georgia Tech All-American Matt Wieters - now with Baltimore - talked to him about what he had missed by not becoming a Yellow Jacket.

"There have been times I missed basketball, but this was definitely the right thing for me to do," Jackson said. "I've never had any regrets."

Still, Jackson's first trip back to the Atlanta area did rekindle some memories.

"It was nice to have Coach Hewitt come out to the game," Jackson said. "I think I really would have enjoyed playing for him."