Andre Jackson may be UConn men’s basketball team’s most interesting player ... and person.

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Photos clockwise from top, UConn guard Andre Jackson (44) in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Washington. Connecticut won 86-77. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Photos clockwise from top, UConn guard Andre Jackson (44) in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Washington. Connecticut won 86-77. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Nick Wass / Associated Press

The adjustable hoop in the driveway was purchased by Andre Jackson Sr. and has taken a beating over the years from Andre Jackson Jr. but it still stands, a resilient centerpiece to a setting that shaped the childhood of the most interesting player — and person — on the UConn men’s basketball team.

“That’s where I learned to dunk,” Jackson Jr., the Huskies sophomore, said. “I would lower that hoop and dunk and keep raising it until I couldn’t dunk anymore. My dad would hide the crank because he didn’t want me to put the hoop down, but I always wanted to dunk. So me and my brother would get a screwdriver and stick it through the little hole, find different ways to lower the hoop. It’s a little rusty. It’s been through some WD-40. It’s been through a lot.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

Jackson was just 12 when he began dunking at the regulation 10 feet. Today, he dunks and plays like few others in college basketball, with unique athletic violence. He is so refined in areas of show and force — and unrefined, though improving, in others — that it has occasionally been easy label him. In life and basketball, though, Jackson is the polar opposite of one-dimensional.

He’s a wiry 6 foot 7 guard, forward, something in between, both, something new in one way, a throwback in another. He is an increasingly effective passer and rebounder, a stellar defender, a fascinating study in basketball maturation on the fly, a national flag blue streak trying to harness all his 100 mph gifts.

Jackson’s development this season as a sophomore has been a well of resources for the Huskies, who open the NCAA Tournament Thursday against New Mexico State at KeyBank Center in Buffalo — about 250 miles west of Jackson’s childhood home in Amsterdam, N.Y. He has started 31 of 32 games for UConn (23-9), averaging 29.2 minutes, 6.8 points, seven rebounds, 3.1 assists and at least one head-spinning or eye-popping play a game.

Jackson, 20, grew up as part of a massive, multiracial, multicultural family with relationships that created windows for his boundless curiosity about life and people. He is an amalgamation of who and what surrounded him, and what he continues to learn about a complicated world.

Connecticut's Andre Jackson in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut's Andre Jackson in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

Jackson’s mother, Tricia Altieri, was a college basketball player and an accomplished amateur boxer, part of a large Italian family in Amsterdam. Andre’s uncles, Mike Altieri and Rich Altieri have been Jujitsu instructors and competitors, also longtime power-lifters who got into strongman competitions, flipping huge tires and pulling trucks before it was popular.

Jackson’s father, 6-5 and slender, was a college basketball player of strikingly similar build to his first-born son. Andre Terrell Jackson Sr. could dunk from the free throw line and was known as “Rabbit,” part of a large Black and deeply religious family in Richmond, Va. He now goes by “Richmond Rab” on stage and has a music career as a rapper while also working as a landscaper.

Mixed into a white New York-based family and Black Virginia-based family are countless cousins, in-laws and friends of great influence for Jackson. His maternal grandparents, Richard and Gail Altieri, had an open-door policy, so who knows how many of those doors also ended up needing WD-40 through decades of gatherings and scores of people coming and going?

“Complete and constant chaos,” said Jackson’s uncle, Rich Altieri, a married father of one who works for the city of Amsterdam.

That old hoop where Jackson first dunked was set up by his grandfather maybe 15 years ago outside of a house that feels more like home than any place Jackson has spent other formative years — even more than the house directly across the street, where Jackson was actually raised. His grandparents’ house sits on a two-acre lot with a swimming pool in the back and a diving board Jackson did flips off of all summer, a large hill on the side where he sledded all winter, a swing set in the yard and regular macaroni and meatball dinners that drew everyone inside.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with family members.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with family members.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

This is where, and how, Jackson learned about himself and began to understand a world he still explores with great curiosity, reading voraciously on topics of history, social justice, race relations and more.

“I think Andre has a worldly perspective that kids his age and quite frankly, adults, don’t have,” said Jackson’s uncle, Mike Altieri, a married father of two who is a franchise partner and operates about a dozen Orangetheory Fitness locations in New York State. “Having so much experience with different cultures, it’s just made him a good man at a young age. He’s very in-tuned socially to things happening in the world. I really respect his level of understanding about how the world is and what’s really going on out there.”

Breaking down barriers

Jackson has three tattoos. One reads, “Am I Next?”

It has nothing to do with whether he’ll harness his potential and become an NBA player.

More Information

No. 5 UConn men vs. No. 12 New Mexico State

6:50 p.m.

Venue: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV: TNT

“It was during a time when there was a lot going on, racially, riots, right before the pandemic and during the pandemic,” Jackson said. “The year prior, I was super into history — Rodney King, the riots in L.A. — and researching stuff. So, am I next? Being Black in America, there is a lot that can take you off your path. My thinking was, am I the next to go or the next to rise? Am I next to fall or next to rise? Am I next to be great, or am I next to meet my demise?”

Jackson is proud to be Black and he is proud to be white. Racial identity, though, was a confusing issue for him as a child.

“I’m a Black male; that’s what everybody is going to see,” he said. “Imagine pulling up to the AAU tournament with your white grandfather. It’s an adjustment. You’re not always going to be as emotionally stable. You might feel like you’re an outcast. But as I grew and began to talk to more people and experience more things, I started to realize that because I am biracial, that makes it easier for me to relate to so many different people and be able to actually have relationships with people of any color, any ethnicity. It kind of breaks down the barrier between black and white. I can be completely comfortable.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with his father, Andre Jackson Sr., and his younger siblings, brother Marcus and sister Mianna

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with his father, Andre Jackson Sr., and his younger siblings, brother Marcus and sister Mianna

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

Andre Jackson Sr. and Tricia Altieri met at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, N.Y., and had three children together — Andre, and younger twins Marcus and Mianna. Jackson Sr. transferred to Mercy College, a Division II school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and averaged 16.3 points over 16 games in 2000-02. Jackson Jr. was born Nov. 13, 2001.

Jackson Sr. had five children by the time he was 25 and never pursued a professional basketball career but friends and family members say he was just as talented as Andre, probably even more so. Jackson Jr. idolized his father, mimicked his every basketball move, spent late nights with him at the gym as a kid.

Jackson Sr. spent Andre’s childhood splitting time between Amsterdam and Richmond, where Andre spent some summers. “Richmond Rab” is a member of Skull Gang, a group founded by Juelz Santana. Father and son remain very close, speaking daily. Jackson knows the lyrics to every song his father has been part of, and sometimes listens to them while warming up before UConn games.

Tricia Altieri has a fourth child from another relationship, Tyler, 25, a barber in the Albany area. Mianna is a student at Hudson Valley Community College and Marcus, who was a teammate of Andre’s at Albany Academy and a year behind him, is doing a prep year at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. Tricia is the director of nursing at an Albany-based home healthcare service.

“She’s beyond anything for me,” Jackson said of his mother. “The hardest working person I’ve ever met. She always found a way to provide for us.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson (left) with older brother Tyler (center) and younger brother Marcus (right)

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson (left) with older brother Tyler (center) and younger brother Marcus (right)

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

Tricia Altieri was 11-1 as an amateur boxer and also competed in Jujitsu, like her brothers. So if Jackson wasn’t in a basketball gym, he was at weekend Jujitsu tournaments and in gyms of all kinds from an early age. He was a standout football player, a quarterback, before a broken clavicle forced him to miss a few basketball games. He competed in Jujitsu youth divisions, too.

“And he got it down to a science, where he knew you got more points for taking somebody down,” Tricia said. “So he would take you down, wait until you stood back up, take you down again, wait until you stood back up, take you down again.”

Jackson would spend hours at a time, often starting at 6 a.m., working on basketball with Clyde Clymer, a local pastor and trainer who was a father-like mentor to Jackson Jr. and Jackson Sr. before him. Tricia remembers Andre standing at a front window waiting for Clyde to pick him up for workouts or tournaments, peaking through the drapes, and the two would come back however many hours later after basketball, dinner, usually a stop to pick up some of Andre’s favorite sour candy.

“Clyde is my heart,” Jackson said. “The three most important things in my life, he is. He is my family. 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.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

Clymer started training Jackson when Jackson he was 9.

“Tricia was very gracious, trusted me with him,” Clymer said. “It wasn’t always about basketball. It was father and son time. He was so moody. He slept over on the weekends but he’s a mama’s boy and he missed his mother so he didn’t want do that anymore. I’ve just tried to be an uplifter and edifier and tap into how awesome he is as a person and player. I tell Andre that you can have a polite conceit. And that conceit will cause you to be a great producer and a great contributor.”

Clymer’s daughter was a standout player at the same college Tricia and Andre Sr. attended. He and Jackson Sr. have attended a few UConn games together since Andre’s arrival in Storrs. He watches every game, analyzes painstakingly like all coaches whose pupil has blossomed, and talks to Andre often about faith and basketball.

A few months ago, he asked Jackson if he had any fear dribbling, rebounding, passing, defending or dunking. No. No. No. No. And, obviously not.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson as a teen with his mother, Tricia Altieri.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson as a teen with his mother, Tricia Altieri.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo
UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo
UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo
UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson (bottom left) with family members, including his mother Tricia Altieri (to his left), brother Marcus Jackson (top left) and sister Mianna Jackson (top right).

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson (bottom left) with family members, including his mother Tricia Altieri (to his left), brother Marcus Jackson (top left) and sister Mianna Jackson (top right).

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo
Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

How about shooting?

“Andre has to get to the place where he’s not concerned at all about missing,” Clymer said.

‘Focus on winning’

Jackson might be UConn’s starting point guard next season.

What makes that so enticing: He makes plays no others do.

What makes that potentially dangerous: He makes plays no others do.

What’s clear through nearly one half of his UConn career is that Jackson’s game is trending upward.

He’s the best athlete on the court almost any time the ball goes up. How many guards pull down 16 rebounds, as he did Feb. 13 against St. John’s? Few share his open-court vision or his strength to lace passes through traffic to teammates for easy baskets. No one can finish with a head of stream like Jackson, who models his game after “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

To expect Jackson to shoot and/or score like Maravich, who averaged 44 points a game in college before the introduction of a 3-point shot, is ridiculous. But elsewhere, stylistically, there are resemblances when Jackson is at his creative best.

Connecticut guard Andre Jackson (44) in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Washington. Connecticut won 86-77. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Connecticut guard Andre Jackson (44) in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Washington. Connecticut won 86-77. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Nick Wass / Associated Press

Coach Dan Hurley calls Jackson a wizard — genuinely as a compliment, and sarcastically as a way to pull the reins on Jackson, who can still turn the basketball into a pinball, still attempts things that don’t need to be attempted, still is occasionally erratic. His strengths play to this team’s identity, though, and his improvement is a reason why UConn heads into the NCAA Tournament as a better team than it was a year ago.

Jackson feels the weight of responsibility. He’s sometimes hard to reach the day after UConn losses. His phone is off.

“Andre does well, but struggles,” Tricia Altieri said. “He does a lot of meditation. He’s a Christian, puts a lot on God, believes everything is going to be OK and just works as hard as he can. But he’s definitely a worrier and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. And that can be positive and negative. You’re going to keep working on things as hard as you can, but you’re going to stress yourself out in the meantime. The way he’s always been. One of my brothers made the comment that he’s almost too smart for his own good.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with his mother, Tricia Altieri; his grandfather, Richard Altieri; Tricia's longtime partner, John; UConn coach Dan Hurley, UConn assistant Tom Moore, Albany Academy coach Brian Fruscio.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with his mother, Tricia Altieri; his grandfather, Richard Altieri; Tricia's longtime partner, John; UConn coach Dan Hurley, UConn assistant Tom Moore, Albany Academy coach Brian Fruscio.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

Jackson is hyper-analytical, fascinated and sometimes consumed by detail, always thinking about how to be “next” in the most positive and constructive way. In a discussion last month he described his love for building something piece by piece. He was talking about his artwork, graphic design projects, logos and drawings he creates, shirts he makes to sell and give away — but it also applies to basketball.

He hears and/or feels the talk. Many close to him who saw him score at will as a kid think he should reintroduce a mid-range scoring priority and shoot more. Many UConn observers see his unorthodox shot and don’t have much faith in him from the perimeter. Jackson just wants to make the right play and — whether it’s intelligence or reluctance — often views, say, Tyrese Martin or R.J. Cole from 20 feet as a better option than his own shot from the lane. What he loves most about basketball is creating for others.

“I focus on winning,” Jackson said. “I don’t care about anything else. People come to me and say, even my closest family members, that I should do this or I should try to score more or I should shoot more. But I don’t know. Last game, I tried to shoot more and we didn’t win. So what’s the point?”

Jackson was speaking two days after a loss at Creighton during which he was 0-for-6 on 3-pointers. He is shooting 42.2 percent from the field this season, 36.7 on 3’s.

“He’s learning,” his father, Jackson Sr., said. “He’s producing extremely well. He’s maturing and growing. Andre’s a special kid. I’m really proud of him. To witness him making it where he wants to go and succeeding — as a father, that’s what really matters. And he always takes care of everybody else. You can probably tell that by the way he plays ball.”

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 25: UConn Huskies guard Andre Jackson (44) drives to the basket during a college basketball game between Georgetown Hoyas and UConn Huskies on January 25, 2022, at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 25: UConn Huskies guard Andre Jackson (44) drives to the basket during a college basketball game between Georgetown Hoyas and UConn Huskies on January 25, 2022, at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

‘Balance the two worlds and two races’

Jackson is meticulous in maintaining his mental health, a sharp view of the world and solid grasp for his future. He has NBA dreams, of course — and others.

He hasn’t yet declared a major at UConn but is leaning toward urban community studies. He’ll continue with graphic design, something he picked up after receiving an iPad for Christmas a few years ago. He’d love to eventually write movie scripts. There is very little he watches, or reads, without growth and understanding being the goals. His mind whirs with thoughts of his place in the world.

“Black history is very important to me and, overall, it’s just identity and knowing who you are and knowing that as a Black male, regardless of where you are socially or economically, you are always going to be faced with prejudice and various forms of racism,” he said. “I knew that as a kid. Being around a lot of white people, I did come in contact with a lot of discrimination as well. I didn’t really understand it and it did bother me. But as I grew older I started to realize that I don’t have to be OK with that, that I can speak up against it and have my own opinion and I can voice it. I’ve started to really find my identity when I started to research black history.”

Jackson’s two other tattoos display some of what he has learned and believes in.

One is of Bugs Bunny running from Elmer Fudd. It represents, Jackson said, “Trying to escape all the things that are trying to tear you down or take you off your path. I like Bugs Bunny because he doesn’t have all the weaponry or artillery to beat Elmer Fudd, but he finds ways to manipulate him into hurting himself. I look at Elmer Fudd as the system trying to tear you down and Bugs Bunny is like, ‘I’m going to have to find ways to maneuver that system to stay alive.”

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with family members.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson with family members.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo

The other is design by Emory Douglass, an artist and activist who was part of the Black Panther Party — an image of a young man holding a sign that reads, “All power to the people.”

“I really like his art,” Jackson said. “I just like the Blank Panther Party in general. People say they are something that they weren’t. They were self-defense. They weren’t going out trying to kill people. They were only acting in self-defense. That’s the same thing a black panther does. It doesn’t go out and kill the opposition. It just protects itself. To me, that is necessary. You have to protect yourself because nobody else is going to.”

There’s so much to this young man who many identify through only the thunderous, near instantaneous action of a slam dunk. He is always “on.” He’s in the gym alone more than any player. He writes, he reads, he draws, he tells detailed stories, asks many questions. He has spent time at 518 Prints — a printing, design and merchandising company in Averill Park, N.Y. — to refine his design skills for his clothing line. His recently-released hoodie in honor of Black History Month featuring Wyatt Outlaw, a Black politician lynched in 1870.

“Always just trying to find who I am as a person,” Jackson said. “Being biracial, it’s an interesting process, trying to balance the two worlds and two races.”

It’s complicated. He embraces that — and the simple joy of putting a ball through a basket, sometimes emphatically, for so long now at his grandparents’ house, which created the lens through which he sees the world.

mike.anthony@hearstmediact.com; @ManthonyHearst

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

UConn men's basketball sophomore Andre Jackson.

Tricia Altieri / Contributed photo