ALBANY — As the UConn Huskies pulled away from Iona Friday evening at MVP Arena in what ended up as an 87-63 win in the first-round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the atmosphere was celebratory.
In the commotion after hulking 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward Adama Sanogo rained in a long jumper — initially ruled a 3-pointer, later changed to a 2 after further review — Andre Jackson Jr. excitedly tugged at the front of his jersey and displayed it to a crowd of 14,010 that was heavily tilted in the Huskies’ favor, including legendary actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is a UConn assistant coach.
For his part, Jackson was tugging at the word “CONNECTICUT” emblazoned across his chest, a symbol of the 6-foot-6 junior wing’s devotion to his team.
But for the Amsterdam native and Albany Academy graduate, the No. 44 printed just below it holds just as much significance.
“It’s a number of guidance,” Jackson said during Thursday’s pre-tournament media availability. “That’s how I look at it.”
It’s a number with deep meaning for Jackson and the rest of his family.
It was worn as a young basketball and football player by Chris Altieri, his mother Tricia Altieri’s younger brother. Chris Altieri died of an aneurysm in 1998 — three years before Jackson’s birth — when he was just 14.
It was also worn by Tricia Altieri’s cousin, Lester Rivera Jr., when he was the star running back on Amsterdam High School’s 1995 state championship football team. Rivera died in a car accident in 2013.
Now, not only does one Jackson proudly wear the number, two of them do. Andre’s worn it since taking the floor for UConn in 2020, and his younger brother Marcus sported the No. 44 in purple and gold this season as a freshman on UAlbany’s men’s basketball team.
“Me and Marcus are carrying that same legacy,” Andre Jackson Jr. said. “It’s awesome to wear.”
When the two brothers played together at Albany Academy, however, neither wore the number. Andre wore No. 22, and Marcus wore No. 12 when the two played side-by-side for the Cadets.
“When we were in high school, the [No. 44 jersey] didn’t fit either one of us,” Marcus Jackson said earlier this season. “We decided that neither one of us would wear it. It was almost like a mutual agreement that since there’s only one of them, we’d rather both of us not wear ir.
“Now that we’re both taking different journeys, I think it’s cool that we can both represent our family.”
Andre Jackson Jr. certainly represented his jersey number and his family well on Friday. With his mom estimating hundreds of Capital Region fans in attendance specifically to see him, the explosive guard played a vital role in his first-ever NCAA tournament win, and the first March Madness victory for the UConn program since 2016.
He wasn’t the headline star for the Huskies — Sanogo finished with 28 points on 13 of 17 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds to help UConn turn around a 39-37 halftime deficit with a dominant final 20 minutes — but Jackson was all over the court on Friday, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He played 34 minutes, more than any other UConn player, and the Huskies were plus-22 with Jackson on the floor — the best of any Husky.
“To be able to have the best plus-minus on the team tonight, that’s how impactful he is,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “And, he’s the best kid ever.”
Jackson started his homecoming hot. Iona often chose to leave Jackson wide open beyond the 3-point arc, daring him to shoot, and he drained a 3-pointer to kick off the scoring. A violent, two-handed dunk in transition and another open triple highlighted an explosive opening.
But, despite the hoopla of his homecoming, Jackson maintained tunnel vision.
“I tried to stay locked in the moment and locked into what was going on on the court,” he said during UConn’s postgame press conference. “I didn’t realize I was in Albany until after the game.”
Reflecting in the locker room a few minutes later, Jackson allowed himself — just for a moment — to get swept up in the occasion.
“Felt good to be home,” he said. “Honestly, it’s always great to just get a refresh and be around my family and friends. I’m looking forward to going out there and see who’s waiting for me. I can’t wait for that.”
In praising Jackson — who also did yeoman’s work on defense, spending most of the night chasing around MAAC Player of the Year Walter Clayton Jr. and limiting him to 15 points on nine shot attempts — Hurley noted that Jackson was a product of the family that made him.
“He’s a special player and he’s got a special makeup,” Hurley said. “It comes from a blue-collar family. Just incredible, hard-working people — his mom Tricia, the Altieri brothers — you get raised by those people, you’re going to be a dog. You’re going to be blue-collar.”
That family is beyond proud to see him and his younger brother carry on the legacy of the No. 44.
It’s a legacy, his mother said Thursday, that’s growing beyond the brothers.
“They wear it, and now all the little kids are wearing it, too,” Tricia Altieri said. “In the CYO games, they’re all wearing 44.”
More: Bill Murray at the NCAAs in Albany with UConn (4 photos)
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