Men’s Basketball: Captain Jackson ready to lead Huskies in year three

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“Creighton.”  

More than 20 minutes into answering questions on Big East Media Day, UConn men’s basketball’s Andre Jackson cut off fellow DC beat writer Evan Rodriguez when he asked the guard who he was looking forward to playing the most. His tone sounded so confident and ready, like he was waiting for the question to be asked all day. 

“We’ve never beat them,” explained Jackson. “I never beat them when I was here, and this year, I feel like this is the team. I need to beat Creighton, we have to beat Creighton. Me and Adama [Sanogo] talk about it every day, me and [Jordan Hawkins] talk about it every day. Creighton is definitely at the forefront of my mind.” 

When asked the same question before his freshman campaign back in 2020, Jackson had a wildly different answer, opting for a typical first-year response saying he’s ready to play everyone. 

As a wide-eyed first-year from upstate New York, Jackson didn’t always share the same sentiment as he does now. Joining a program that hadn’t played a game in the Big East since he was just over 11 years old, there weren’t a ton of relevant conference rivalries for the current Huskies. But now, he has that extra chip on his shoulder after the team’s five straight losses to the Bluejays, the only matchups of their kind between the two programs in their histories. 

The third-year veteran has been through a grueling Big East slate twice, grown as a player and a leader and is ready to help captain this Husky team in the absence of graduated guys like R.J. Cole, Tyrese Martin and Isaiah Whaley. After a long offseason, Jackson finds himself one of the longest-tenured members on the Connecticut squad as a junior.  

“I think I’m most improved in terms of experience. I feel more comfortable in the drills in practice. I feel more confident in everything I’m doing in practice. I feel more confident in my abilities – to score, to shoot, to pass. I feel I’ve grown in every area, and that comes with comfortability and feeling like you have a bigger role with the team.” 

That role for Jackson has been crucial both on the court and off, with UConn head coach Dan Hurley explaining that the Amsterdam native has been coordinating team dinners and NFL watch parties, as well as getting teammates to hit the gym on off days. He has played the part of a leader in every respect. So much so, in fact, that Hurley named Jackson and Big East Preseason Player of the Year, Sanogo, captains – a title the long-time head coach hadn’t handed out in his 22-year career. 

“I’ve always felt that everyone on the team has an obligation to carry themselves like a captain, and that in large part, my leadership is critical in terms of setting a tone daily, but until I met Andre, I never even thought about that captain piece,” explained Hurley. “He’s a true captain, in the sense of somebody who takes that responsibility to heart, in an old-school way. He’s a beautiful human being. He genuinely cares more about our success than his own production. He’s very mature that way.” 

Part of caring for that success means having some emotions run during last year’s transfer portal frenzy, when the Huskies lost five players to other NCAA squads. Couple that with the losses of key seniors, and UConn was left with a more than half-empty gym come April. 

“It hurt me, honestly,” said Jackson. “I felt like a lot of guys left us, but it also made us stronger, because everyone that chose to stay really wanted to be a part of this team and this organization. It was really easy to get everybody to be all in, on the same boat, chasing the same goals.” 

Just from talking with Jackson for roughly 35 minutes at Big East Media Day, it’s clear that he has love for his teammates, old and new. He was more than happy to talk about the new additions to the team and who he thinks will give the Huskies a boost. 

“I really like Nahiem [Alleyne] and Alex Karaban,” Jackson said. “I think that those two are very solid, they can play both sides of the ball pretty well, they’re not going to make very many mistakes. They know the game, they have a high IQ for the game and they just play the right way… I think that they’ll definitely have a great impact.” 

He also seemed pleased to talk about the new international additions, both Apostolos Roumoglou of Greece and Yarin Hasson of Israel. 

“They bring a lot to the team, especially Apostolos, I like the way he attacks practice,” stated Jackson. “He attacks practice very hard, he’s trying to get on the court… I definitely respect that. I think that Yarin is getting accustomed to the style of play and physicality, so I think he’s going to do well. They bring a sense of family to the team.” 

Jackson’s face lit up even when talking about new walk-ons Andre Johnson and Emmett Hendry. It’s clear that this squad has a sense of unity, something the third-year guard takes a lot of pride in. 

“They bring great energy every day, so I’m proud of them,” said Jackson. “Great to have them on the team.” 

As the 2022-2023 season starts, Jackson will not, as he is recovering from a broken right pinky finger. The incident happened towards the start of a practice, but the guard thought little of the injury and finished his day in a typical fashion. 

“It had happened in a non-live drill early on in practice and I felt it, but I thought it was just a jam or a sprain,” explained Jackson. “The next day, I came in and it was inflamed. I went to go and get a quick X-ray, and it had a break inside.” 

After his surgery in mid-October, his timeline gives him roughly 2-4 more weeks of recovery. Jackson hopes to return to the team at least in time for what will be the biggest game of the year to that point – a showdown with No. 21 Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational on November 24th. 

While he has been limited with things like shooting and passing, Jackson has been able to work on his cardio and endurance, as well as help his fellow teammates. 

“Right now, I’m trying to use this time to be there for the guys and try to guide them in different ways, while I’m not in the way, trying to get them to understand the big picture of what we’re trying to do,” the captain said. 

While he knows he will be missing games, Jackson looks to have a role similar to “Coach P,” UConn women’s basketball’s Paige Bueckers, who is out for the year. Last year’s mainstay starter mentioned a little about what to expect from him on the sidelines. 

“I feel like I’m going to be the loudest on the bench,” said Jackson. “I’m gonna be rooting for these guys with everything I got at the end of the day. As long as we win, I’m satisfied. My own individual success doesn’t matter to me as much as the team’s success.” 

Spoken like a true captain. 

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