UConn notes: Jackson a popular player in his return to Albany

Mar. 16—ALBANY, N.Y. — A small crowd waited for junior Andre Jackson on Thursday afternoon inside MVP Arena. Some fans called out his name.

Jackson stopped to sign autographs and pose for photos on his way off the court after UConn's open NCAA tournament practice.

He's a popular guy here.

His family lives about 10 minutes away from the arena. He's well-known from his playing days at Albany Academy and grew up in nearby Amsterdam. His brother, Marcus, plays at the University of Albany.

The Andre Jackson fan club is expected to turn out in big numbers for fourth-seeded UConn's West Region first round game against No. 13 Iona at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

"It's awesome, being able to be around my family and also my friends," Jackson said. "Just being in a place that's really familiar is awesome."

Brian Fruscio, Jackson's former coach at Albany, plans to attend. He has a close relationship with the family.

"It's a big deal," Fruscio said about Jackson's homecoming game, "because not everyone gets over to Storrs and UConn really doesn't play anybody closer than St. John's. I know there was an excitement with people from the area that had Big East tournament tickets.

"So, for it to be right at home, I'm sure when his name gets announced in the starting lineup you'll hear a little bit louder buzz than normal."

Always blessed athletically, Jackson grew into a Division I prospect at Albany Academy. His games drew big crowds and created a buzz around the program.

"His junior and senior year, our gym was packed for every home game," Fruscio said. "I don't know if anyone was watching the game because their phones were out. They were trying to capture some highlights. ... That's the type of following he has."

Jackson credits Fruscio for helping him develop as a player and a person.

"I was just a basketball player," Jackson said. "When I got there, he turned me into a winner. He showed me how to be a part of a culture. He showed me all the little things that you've got to do to win a game. And he showed me that basketball is bigger than just myself.

"And I had to sacrifice a lot playing for him and I learned a lot of stuff from him. I talk to him every day, really. He's always hitting me up before games, just giving me confidence and just checking on me. He's like a father figure to me, honestly."

Fruscio, who now coaches at Canterbury School in New Milford, got emotional when told about Jackson's kind words.

"He's such a beautiful person," Fruscio said. "He has a lot of people rooting for him from any of his stops, whether it be growing up in Amsterdam, his four years at Albany Academy, his countless basketball camps, our camp included.

"... He has the Albany City Rocks (AAU team) and coach Jim Hart, that whole family rooting for him. That's the real neat part of Andre. It's a tribute to his kindness. It's a tribute to his awareness of accepting that responsibility of people wanting to be around his great personality."

Jackson also has had a big impact on the Huskies.

"He's just a throwback, man, that only cares about UConn basketball," coach Dan Hurley said. "I don't want him to want it so bad tomorrow for us and for his teammates and for the program that he can't go out and perform because, when he's at his best, he's such a unique and exciting player."

Brown on UConn

Iona first-year assistant Taliek Brown looks forward to facing UConn, where he won a national championship as a player and served as director of player development on coach Dan Hurley's staff before moving on.

"It's going to be weird, but it's going to be fun also," Brown said outside Iona's locker room on Thursday. "Just all the experience I have in the game, I'm just going to bring it out there tomorrow."

Brown is in charge of preparing the scouting report.

He already has a wealth of knowledge about Huskies and the program's history. He was the captain of UConn's 2004 national championship team and still holds the program's all-time assist record. He's the only Husky to score at least 1,000 points (1,039) and dish out 700 assists (722).

He's still close with some UConn players. He exchanged texts with junior Adama Sanogo after the Selection Sunday Show and spoke to the UConn coaches.

"Taliek is my guy," sophomore Jordan Hawkins said.

Brown has talked to the Iona players about his NCAA tournament experience.

"I let these guys know all the time about all the things that I accomplished, "Brown said. "They make fun of me. They show me a lot of respect because of it. So, it's a good thing."

Since Sunday, Brown has heard from several former Huskies about the match-up.

"I spoke to a few alumni — Ray Allen, Rashad Anderson, and Emeka Okafor," Brown said. "They said, 'Go get 'em.' They were giving me the confidence to try to go out there and try to get a W."

News and notes

UConn senior point guard Tristen Newton, a transfer from East Carolina, will be competing in his first NCAA tourney. "I feel like I'm ready. I've had a few guys that have been here tell me what to expect, and that's definitely helped so I'm not too overwhelmed." ... Iona's Rick Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach, has a decisive edge over Hurley as far as NCAA tournament experience as a head coach. Pitino is 54-20 during stops at Providence, Kentucky, Louisville and now Iona. Counting his Rhode Island days, Hurley is 2-4. ... MVP Arena, formerly known at the Times Union Center, is familiar territory for Jackson who played AAU tournaments there. He also went to watch his brother play for Albany earlier this season.