In what has been one of the wackiest NCAA Tournaments in recent memory, No. 9-seeded Florida Atlantic, No. 5-seeded San Diego State, No. 5-seeded Miami and No. 4-seeded Connecticut will gather at the Final Four in Houston to determine the 2022-23 men’s basketball national champion.
For the first time in the tournament’s history, no No. 1 seeds even made the Elite Eight, and the Final Four doesn’t feature a team seeded higher than No. 4. FAU, SDSU and Miami are all making first-time appearances on college basketball’s biggest stage.
— NCAA Men's Final Four (@MFinalFour) March 26, 2023
And a team that was only a dark-horse Final Four contender a couple of weeks ago has suddenly emerged as the favorite to cut down the nets after winning its first four tournament games by margins of 24, 15, 23 and 28 points. That team is UConn.
This is the Huskies’ sixth time in the Final Four, and four of their previous five trips resulted in national championships. UConn fans are hoping for history to repeat itself this weekend in Houston.
To make that happen, the Huskies will need continued championship-level play from junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. In UConn’s four tournament games, Jackson has averaged 7.75 points (while never shooting less than 44.4% from the field), 7.75 assists and seven rebounds per game.
Jackson has also played more minutes than anyone on the team and is widely considered UConn’s best defender. A triple-double threat every time he steps on the court, now completing his second season as a starter, outsiders are beginning to realize what UConn’s coaching staff has known for a long time: Jackson is an irreplaceable cog in the Huskies’ lineup.
“When Jackson is at his best, he’s one of the sport’s most exciting players to watch,” Sports Illustrated wrote about him this week. “An elite athlete, he is known for his thunderous dunks — and the combination of his high-level hops and passing skill makes him a terror for opposing defenses in transition.”
Andre Jackson's virtues as an NBA prospect were on full display in UConn's Final Four run, with spectacular plays highlighting his explosive athleticism and defensive versatility. He has 31 assists, 28 rebounds and made a barrage of winning plays in key moments through 4 games. pic.twitter.com/uKPu56KMH4
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 27, 2023
As Jackson has worked to make himself one of the best players on one of the best teams in the country, he’s modeled his game after basketball legend Pete Maravich. Not necessarily in scoring averages (Maravich averaged 44.2 points per game in college at LSU) but in style and creativity.
“Clyde Clymer, who was my basketball trainer since I was a kid, the person who taught me how to play, he always was big on Pete Maravich,” Jackson told the Hartford Courant in January 2022. “He had such good shooting form. He used to teach me how to shoot like Pete Maravich.”
Clymer, who is also a pastor, has formed an incredible bond with Jackson as a type of father figure and mentor, not just a trainer. Since Jackson was 9 years old, he and Clymer have had deep discussions about faith and basketball.
“Clyde is my heart,” Jackson told CT Insider in March 2022. “The three most important things in my life, he is. He is my connection with God, and he’s been my connection with basketball. He was always there for me as a kid when I was going through a lot. Didn’t have too much. He was a great role model.”
It’s no wonder that Clymer’s affinity for Maravich has rubbed off on Jackson as well. Jackson sports No. 44, Maravich’s number for much of his time in the NBA. Yet Maravich’s influence on Jackson extends beyond the basketball court.
“He made the game fun, and he passed away playing the game,” Jackson told the Hartford Courant about Maravich, who died in 1988 of an undiagnosed heart condition while playing a pickup game. “He passed away doing the thing he loved the most, and that’s something I gravitate toward. He was a believer in God, as I am as well, a believer in Jesus, a great basketball player and my mentor.”
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The Huskies may not need Jackson to drop 50 points on Saturday, as Maravich did on a regular basis, but they most definitely will need his energy, playmaking ability, veteran leadership and consistent production to come out with the win.
Jackson and his UConn teammates are set to tip off against Miami at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET from Houston on Saturday in the second game of the national semifinals.
– Darrion Trammell praising God’s timing as San Diego St. heads to first Final Four
– ‘Truly blessed’ Jordan Miller leads Miami to 1st Final Four in program history
– Florida Atlantic’s Nick Boyd after game-winner: ‘I thank God for this moment’
– UConn’s Paige Bueckers, after ACL tear, feels ‘God is using me as a testimony’
– Man of ‘strong faith’ Rodney Terry named Texas coach after reaching Elite Eight
– Angel Reese leads LSU to Final Four: ‘I’ve been a lot closer to God’