Andre Jackson Jr.’s road to the Final Four wasn’t paved alone.
“You take a little piece from everybody along the way,” said Tricia Altieri, Jackson’s mother. “It takes a village to build that.”
Jackson, an Amsterdam native and Albany Academy graduate, is the on-court glue for a UConn team that will take the floor Saturday night against Miami at Houston’s NRG Stadium in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
When he and the Huskies step onto the court, that village — the people who saw and nurtured his talent, who watched and marveled at his development along the way — will be behind him.
“This is what he’s been dreaming of,” said Marcus Jackson, Andre’s younger brother, who just finished his freshman basketball season at UAlbany. “For him to be the leader of such a good team at such a high level, it’s unbelievable.”
Unbelievable, but maybe written in the stars, considering that when the Jackson brothers played on their mini-hoop at home as kids, more often than not they were envisioning themselves in the roles of UConn stars.
“We talked about it as kids,” Marcus Jackson said. “We’re playing at the house as kids, I’m Kemba Walker, he’s Jeremy Lamb. We’re playing on the mini-hoop at home, and now him being at UConn and making a legacy, it’s just unbelievable.”
Kolbie Glionna was just 15 when he became a coach in the Amsterdam Recreation Basketball League, volunteering his time so he could coach his younger brother’s team.
For four years, Glionna had a young Andre Jackson on his teams. But, even at that young age, Glionna said, there wasn’t much coaching necessary.
“He knew more about basketball — at a young age — than I ever could,” Glionna said. “I managed the team and who subbed in and out, and he ran the team from there.”
Glionna first saw Jackson play when he was still a second-grader, and was already wowed.
“I remember seeing him in the hallway, doing the spider ballhandling drill,” Glionna said. “Between the legs, two hands in the front, two hands in the back, and he’s doing it perfectly. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’”
Brian Fruscio, who would later coach both Jackson brothers at Albany Academy, recalled his earliest memories of seeing Andre play.
Jackson was a frequent attendee at Fruscio’s basketball camps and, even when he was in third and fourth grade, his basketball instincts were already off-the-charts — which sometimes made things a little difficult on the young players around him.
“He’d rebound the ball off the backboard and go 100 miles an hour,” Fruscio said. “And the neat part with Andre is, he just passes to the open man, even at that point. He was bonking kids in the head, because he would just pass it to you if you were open.
“If you weren’t ready, you got the rock on the side of your head.”
COMING INTO HIS OWN
Amsterdam boys’ basketball coach Tim Jones’ first memories of Jackson were as a kindergartener, when Jones taught him during his first job at Amsterdam’s William H. Barkley MicroSociety Magnet School.
Years later, Jackson was in middle school, already brought up to Amsterdam’s junior varsity team as a prodigious rising talent. Jones, who by that point had taken over the Running Rams’ varsity program, has vivid memories of Jackson’s first in-game slam dunk.
“I’ll never forget it,” Jones said. “That first dunk, at Broadalbin-Perth as a JV player. That was pretty special.”
On talent alone, Jones said, he easily could have brought him up to the varsity level in 2015-16 as an eighth-grader, but with a veteran roster led by Kory Bergh and Bryan Stanavich, Jones opted not to put too much pressure on Jackson too early.
“As much temptation as there was, we didn’t want to put him in an awkward spot,” Jones said. “He’s such a great kid, and he always showed those kinds of qualities, even when he was young. He was always just a quiet, confident kid. We just wanted to make sure that in his development, we were putting him in the best places.”
Jones never got to unleash Jackson’s potential on the varsity level at Amsterdam, as prior to his freshman year, he enrolled at Albany Academy.
Jackson played for powerhouse Cadets teams under Fruscio, playing alongside fellow future Division I players like Hameir Wright (Washington) and August Mahoney (Yale), with his brother Marcus (UAlbany) and Riley Mulvey (Iowa) eventually joining the program as well.
For a lot of his high school career, Jackson left his scoring ambitions on the backburner, thriving mostly with rebounding, defense and passing — and the more than occasional highlight reel dunk.
“He was doing a little bit of everything,” Fruscio said. “Just similar to what he’s doing right now. He’s rebounding and he’s passing. He’s just playing like the Andre that we know.
“There might be people in the world that are surprised. I’m not one of them.”
A WILD RIDE
Jackson committed to UConn in October 2019, choosing the Huskies over offers from Syracuse, UCLA, Iowa and Maryland.
He was a role player as a freshman in 2020-21, despite missing seven games with a broken left wrist. He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, averaging 6.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
The 6-foot-6 guard, whom UConn coach Dan Hurley has referred to as “the ultimate leader” was named a team captain entering this season, though he missed the first three games of the year after fracturing the pinky finger on his right hand during preseason practice.
It was that time on the shelf, his mother said, that molded him more than any previous time in his college career.
“He was able to sit on the sideline, listen to coach [Hurley], listen to the assistant coaches, take what they’re looking for in the team and take it to the team,” Altieri said. “He was able to be that medium there. He told me after he got back, ‘Mom, this has been the greatest experience I’ve ever had.’”
This season, Jackson is averaging 6.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists for a star-studded UConn team that started its tournament run two weeks ago at MVP Arena in Albany and proceeded to lay waste to four straight opponents in the West Region to get the program to its first Final Four in nine years.
UConn suffered first-round tournament exits in each of Jackson’s first two seasons, something Altieri said weighed heavily on her son as he started his junior campaign.
“He was super disappointed last year when they got to the first round and lost the game,” she said. “For him to see this, it’s so exciting, because that’s been his goal. From day one, going into UConn, it was, ‘Mom, I want to win the championship.’ And now, it’s right there. You can taste it.”
A jack-of-all-trades on the court, Jackson’s earned plaudits from numerous national outlets as one of the top “glue guys” in college basketball this season.
That, Fruscio said, is no surprise.
It’s a product of the people who molded him.
“If you knew his grandparents, he’s had great role models,” Fruscio said. “If you watched his mom juggle their family, you understand what glue is. It comes from his role models right there in his life. A lot of kids can’t be the glue, because they don’t know what the glue looks like. In Andre’s life, he’s had many people that are the glue. He knows what it looks like, and now he’s modeling what people have modeled for him.”
Contact Adam Shinder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Shinder.
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