ALBANY — Andre Jackson Jr. knows just how many eyes will be on him this weekend at MVP Arena.
But the Amsterdam native and Albany Academy graduate wants to make sure his Capital Region homecoming doesn’t cast any shadow over the bigger goal that he and his UConn men’s basketball teammates have set for themselves.
“It’s not about me,” Jackson, a junior guard, said Thursday in advance of the Huskies’ first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament game against Iona on Friday at MVP Arena. “It’s not my moment, it’s our moment. We came here as UConn, not as Andre Jackson. We came here to win a couple games and make our way. I don’t want this moment to be about me, it’s about our team and all the work we’ve put forward to get to this moment.”
It’s that attitude — plus his spectacular athleticism and relentless on-court energy — that have made Jackson a favorite of UConn head coach Dan Hurley.
“All he cares about is the team,” Hurley said, “doesn’t care if he takes a shot, doesn’t care about his valuation, I don’t know, his NIL valuation. He’s just a throwback, man, that only cares about UConn basketball.”
Still, Jackson acknowledged the excitement of coming back home and playing in an arena where he had some of his earliest basketball memories of coming to watch the Harlem Globetrotters.
While he said the potential of playing NCAA tournament games in Albany wasn’t something he had at the forefront of his mind throughout the season, when UConn (25-8 overall) — the No. 4 seed in the West Region — learned on Selection Sunday that its road through March Madness would run through Albany, he embraced the moment.
“Once I found out it was in Albany, it was definitely a cool thing,” Jackson said. “Definitely something that not a lot of people experience in playing an NCAA tournament game in their own hometown. But, I’m definitely looking forward to just getting on the court and playing.”
While Jackson played off the idea of anticipating a potential postseason homecoming, his mom, Tricia Altieri, definitely had it on her calendar from the moment the Huskies established themselves as one of the nation’s top teams this season.
“We were planning on him being in Albany,” Altieri said, “but when we got the final news, just so excited for him that he can have his support system — Albany Academy, Amsterdam, all of his City Rocks fans and coaches, ex-players. It’s exciting that he gets to play here in front of all of us. Not everyone can get down to all the UConn games, so this is perfect.”
Altieri was the first person to reach out to Jackson when the brackets were revealed on Sunday night.
“She texted me that she was so happy she was going to cry,” he said.
The crowds on hand for Thursday’s open practices at MVP Arena were relatively modest, but when Jackson and the Huskies walked onto the court for their 40-minute workout, the high-flying junior was clearly in the spotlight.
Walking out of the tunnel, Jackson was immediately met with a handful of autograph and photo requests from fans, and there was a legion of a couple dozen local fans — his mom and younger brother Marcus, who recently completed his freshman basketball season at UAlbany, among them — cheering him on.
That cheering section figures to increase exponentially on Friday — and Sunday, if the Huskies are able to get past No. 13 seed and MAAC champion Iona.
“Somewhere around 300 [people], my mom said,” Jackson said.
Actually, Altieri said, that’s a conservative estimate.
“At least. At least,” she said. “I’d say probably 500 people.”
They’ll be on hand to see a player who Hurley described as “one of the most exciting players in college basketball.”
Jackson’s numbers aren’t spectacular — he averages 6.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while taking fewer than six shots per night — but his dynamic, two-way play is. Since his days playing junior varsity basketball while a middle schooler in Amsterdam to his stellar career at Albany Academy under then-Cadets head coach Brian Fruscio, Jackson’s always had a penchant for highlight-reel moments and spectacular slam dunks.
“He’s an invaluable player,” Hurley said. “The impact he has [is] all over the court: What he does on the backboard, both glasses, is like a shutdown cornerback on the defensive end. Then, he’s figured out how to play offense when people are playing him soft.”
A co-captain this year, Jackson’s also developed into a crucial leader and tone-setter for the Huskies.
“I learned how to be a leader here in Albany, at Albany Academy with coach Fruscio,” Jackson said. “Now, coach Hurley’s teaching me even more. It’s a lot to learn, and it’s a burden if you let it be, but it’s great to have guys that can follow, and also be able to follow guys and communicate with them.”
“Just the competitiveness he brings every day in practice, I learned that the most from him,” UConn freshman guard Jordan Hawkins said. “He brings it every day. You’ve got to be an everyday guy to succeed in this program.”
Jackson’s hopeful that competitive fire will help lead the way forward for a UConn program that’s suffered first-round NCAA tournament losses to double-digit seeds in each of his first two seasons with the program.
With the hometown crowd in his corner, he’s expecting the environment to be at a fever pitch — just the way he likes it.
“It all depends on how I play, and the energy that I bring,” he said. “I think people feed off that as well. The energy that I bring to the game can get the crowd into it, for sure, and the fact that I’m home will definitely bring some more energy out of the crowd.”
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Categories: College Sports, Sports