UConn's Jackson growing up right before our eyes
Two hours before Tuesday's tip, UConn sophomore Andre Jackson stood on a nearly empty XL Center court shooting free throws.
Jackson is constantly working on his game.
Combine his work ethic, commitment and dedication to his craft with a high basketball IQ and freakish athleticism and you get a player with star potential.
On top of that, Jackson gives maximum effort during games.
"The motor, the intensity, the energy, the activity, it's all there," coach Dan Hurley said. "You see the potential greatness in him."
It's hard to argue with Hurley's assessment.
A 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard out of Amsterdam, N.Y, Jackson is playing the best basketball of his young career. His numbers are up in every statistical category from last season, averaging career-bests in points (7.9), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.6) per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and a team-best 52 percent from three-point range.
Entering Thursday's Big East game against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (9 p.m., FS1), Jackson has scored in double figures in a career-best four straight games, averaging 10.8 during that span. He had his first double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in Tuesday's 76-59 win over Butler in Hartford.
Jackson's improved offensive game, especially his shooting, jumps out the most. He made three of four from 3-point land on Tuesday. He went just 2 for 17 from beyond the arc last season.
His jump shot is unorthodox but effective.
"I'm just starting to see some payoff for all the work that I put in over the summer and over the time since I've been at UConn and since before I got to UConn," Jackson said. "I knew that was a big weakness and I tried to make it a strength, so every day I just stay consistent and try to work on it."
One reason why Jackson arrived at Storrs with a work-in-progress jump shot is because he dunked the ball so much while excelling at Albany Academy.
Jackson is still learning how to consistently finish at the rim.
"He didn't have to develop finishes and nuance around the basket (in high school), but he's starting to figure that piece out and that makes him a very, very dangerous man as he understands how to get to the rim and develop different creativities," Hurley said.
Already a dunkmaster, Jackson is still developing his all-around game. He's shown flashes of brilliance and some flair to his game.
Hurley calls Jackson's feel for the game and court vision "high level."
Growing up, Jackson fell in love with NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich's game. He altered the way he played after watching the movie, "The Pistol: The Birth of Legend."
"Pistol Pete was the first player that I started watching," Jackson said before arriving at UConn. "Once I found Pistol Pete, that's when I really figured out there's just so much more to the game. The love for the game is so crazy."
Of course, Jackson has plenty of room for improvement.
He can be careless with and needs to work on his ball-handling and decision-making. He leads the team with 36 turnovers.
"He's got to take better care of the ball," Hurley said. "He can't have the stretches where he's loose with the ball. But I love the way he's beginning to attack the rim and I just feel like he's scratching the surface on the player that we recruited him to be. He's on the road to be That Guy.
"... The thing that makes Andre's mistakes something that I can live with more is how hard that guy plays. That guy is just all over the court."
During Tuesday's post-game press conference, Jackson talked about needing to be a bigger defensive presence and a better rebounder despite being the second leading rebounder on the team.
While he realizes that No. 25 UConn is a tougher team to beat when he's scoring in double figures, that's not his focus.
"I'm just trying to let the game come to me," Jackson said. "I know my identity is defense and that's what the coaches want from me and that's what at the end of the day is going to be my strength anywhere I go. I think I'm just trying to lock in on defense and that helps me play better on the offensive end."
Hurley believes Jackson is just getting started.
"He's on a great track right now," Hurley said. "I credit Andre for allowing us to coach him, not getting rattled in year one where he was struggling to produce and to understand his identity. But now he's understanding his identity and growing as a player."
No. 25 UCONN at BUTLER
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Tip: 9 p.m. (FS1)
Records: UConn 12-4, 3-2; Butler 9-8, 2-4
Last game: UConn beat Butler, 76-59, Tuesday in Hartford
Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 grad. guard R.J. Cole (16.4 pts, 4.8 assists), 6-6 so. Andre Jackson (7.9 pts, 7.8 rebs), 6-6 sr. guard Tyrese Martin (13.1 pts, 6.7 rebs), 6-9 grad. forward Isaiah Whaley (6.7 pts, 4.6 rebs, 2.3 blks), 6-9 so. forward Adama Sanogo (15.7 pts, 8.4 rebs)
Butler, 6-2 grad guard Aaron Thompson (7.3 pts, 3.8 assists), 6-3 grad guard Jair Bolden (9.1 pts), 6-4 fr. guard Jayden Taylor (10.2 pts), 6-7 grad forward Bryce Nze (8.5 pts, 5.6 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Bryce Golden (9.3 pts, 4 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn off to its best overall start since 2013-14 season. ... Butler lost four of its last five games. ... Series: UConn won all four meetings. In Tuesday's win, five Huskies scored in double figures led by Cole's 17. Simas Lukosius (17) and Taylor (19) top scores for Butler. ... First home game for Butler after three straight on the road. Owns 6-3 record at Hinkle. ... Top reserve: 6-2 so. guard Chuck Harris (9.8 pts, 3.1 rebs). ... Hot: Sanogo with a career-best three straight double doubles, averaging 19 pts and 16.3 rebounds. Cold: Butler shot 30.5 percent from the field on Tuesday. ... UConn had only nine turnovers last game after committing 35 in the previous two. ... Martin coming off a season-low three- point effort. ... Jackson scored in double figures in a career-best four straight games. ... UConn with as many blocks (24) in the last two games as the previous five combined. ... Huskies 1-2 in true away games. ... Hurley on facing Butler for the second straight game: "This is uncharted territory. I don't know how this thing is going to feel. Hinkle is a tough place to play and a fun place to play if you love the game and the history. I'm going to focus on what we watch on film and make the corrections that are appropriate." ... Up next: UConn hosts Georgetown at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe
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