When UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley plucked Albany native Andre Jackson out from under Jim Boeheim’s hairy nose, many thought he was an instant-impact type of player. Hurley even said before last season that Jackson’s freshman year would be similar to star guard James Bouknight’s.
A ‘natural leader’ with otherworldly athleticism and ball-handling, Jackson had high hopes for a fast start in Storrs.
But much like everything else in 2020, it didn’t quite go as planned for Jackson. A balky knee last summer impacted his offseason and a broken wrist in the fall prevented him from making an early-season splash. Jackson did not have an easy time adjusting to the college level under these circumstances — an inconsistent outside shot and constant foul trouble led to an uneven first year.
For every highlight-reel dunk or pass there was a classic freshman mistake like a turnover or head-scratching foul. But with Bouknight now moving on to the NBA draft, the Huskies are looking for playmakers to step up.
Jackson believes this year he can answer the call.
“In the summer we do a lot of skill work and different player development stuff,” Jackson explained. “In-season it’s more team development and running through plays and actions and getting accustomed to the defensive styles Coach wants. This summer has given me the opportunity to home in on my offensive skillset to try to have a big impact on the team this year.”
That includes a summer full of getting shots up, absolutely integral for a shooting guard that shot an anemic 11% from downtown last year. It means using scrimmages to find the balance between attacking the rim and getting his teammates involved.
“I think passing is something I enjoy doing,” he said. “Ever since I started playing as a kid I had fun passing the ball and getting my teammates involved. My family and friends tell me I pass the ball too much, but it’s something I like to do, so I’ll continue to do it. But I want to try to find that comfortable medium between looking to score and pass.”
Even though he was sitting out, the cerebral freshman had his eyes and ears open. He saw the intensity of a resurgent UConn program.
“I remember watching Bouknight and how hard he practiced and the energy he brought. I try to take that and approach it the same way he did. The older guys, RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, the way they approach the game, is very serious. I think I’ve taken that into my own account.”
After a whole summer to harvest his immense gifts on both ends of the court, Jackson is poised to contribute more as a sophomore. Instead of the indecisive, shaky shooter, UConn needs an aggressive downhill slasher and facilitator that can guard many different positions on the court.
In watching his highlights, this is where Jackson shines:
- If the other team goes zone, he’s an adept passer out of the elbow and one of the few players who can hit the crosscourt pass.
- He is a nightmare to contain in the open court, in the offensive glass or in transition.
- His ball-handling allows him to grab a rebound and initiate a break without having to find a guard. And his size and aggression mean someone has to check him quickly before he gets downhill or finds a streaking teammate in transition.
Though played a little too fast at times, and was far too casual with some passes that were either home runs or errors, Jackson showed a lot of promise as a freshman. Finally healthy and having made it through an adjustment period that included a global public health crisis, Jackson has his eyes on much more in a season that is filled with possibilities for Dan Hurley and UConn in 2021-2022.