INDIANAPOLIS — Andre Jackson Jr. is confident enough in NBA talent evaluators to believe they understand his value.
It might be easy to dismiss Jackson and his 6.0 career points per game in three seasons at UConn including two as a starting guard if he hadn’t just helped the Huskies to a mildly surprising national title. During that run, all the little things the junior from Amsterdam, N.Y. stood out.
Jackson tied for the team lead in assists per game with 4.7. he was second on the team in rebounding with 6.2 per game and tied for the team lead in steals with 1.1 per game. He showed he could handle multiple positions including point guard on offense, guard multiple positions on defense and rebound above his size at 6-6, 210 pounds. And he was the guy who did the dirty work, diving on the floor or saving balls that were flying out of bounds to maintain possessions or create new ones.
Players like him don’t get picked in the lottery, and you can’t built a franchise with them as the centerpiece. But rare is the team that wins a title without such a player, or even with only one of them. That’s why the Pacers brought him in Friday as part of their first pre-draft prospect workout leading up to next week’s combine in Chicago and why Jackson trusts that his contributions shine through even in small-group workouts.
“I think the things that I do well definitely translate,” Jackson said Friday after the workout at the Ascension St. Vincent Center across from Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “Rebounding, playing defense, just being a good guy, somebody who can ignite the gym and be a voice on the court. I think all those things translate.”
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The title run also gave him a better understanding of his own mental fortitude and his ability to keep it together in tough situations. The Huskies entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed and weren’t considered anyone’s title favorite, but they blitzed through their bracket with six wins that all came by at least 13 points. Jackson scored in double figures in just one of those six games and averaged 6.7 points, but he also averaged 6.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.
“I learned how to just stay present in the moment and try not to let everything distract you,” Jackson said. “When you’re playing in front of 70,000 people in a football stadium, it’s easy to get distracted by literally anything. The fans, the media, everything can be a possible distraction. During that time I learned to eliminate all distractions and quiet my mind and find peace inside some of the most messed-up and chaotic situations.”
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And in that time he earned more reason to envision himself as the sort of role player who can find a home in the league for a long time. He mentioned the Warriors’ Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala as influences as well as Philadelphia’s P.J Tucker.
“I really like P.J. Tucker a lot,” Jackson said. “He brings a lot of energy on the defensive end, somebody who’s very persistent. Always locked in on the defensive end, always making those little extra plays that maybe don’t show up on a stat sheet, that’s definitely something I do a lot. You might not be able to see on a stat sheet what I bring to the table, but in a game, I could get a save or a deflection, little things, just effort plays that maybe change the course of a game and help you win basketball games.”
Jackson is aware, though, that he needs to get better at some things that do show up on a stat sheet, in particular his shooting. He shot a respectable 43.2% from the floor last season and 42.8% from his career, but he was buoyed by strong finishing at the rim. He shot 64.2% at the rim according to hoop-math.com last season, but he made just 34.9% of his 2-point jump shots and 28.1% of his 3s (25 of 89).
“I know that’s the biggest weakness in my game,” Jackson said. “That’s something I’m gonna be working on for the entirety of my career, trying to get that as good as I can. Working on just getting it off quicker, really just shooting with confidence, getting full extension on my shot, and really just catching and shooting. That’s something I’ve been focusing on a lot. Looking at the rim as soon as I catch it. Getting my eyes on the rim.”
Jackson still has two years of college eligibility remaining and could go higher next season if he gets his shot fixed or if he proves he can make shots with regularity. In a post-workout shootaround open to the media, he showed a low release and a bit of a hitch in his release, but he was also making a lot of the shots he was putting up.
However, mock drafts suggest that there could be some teams picking late in the first round who could use Jackson’s services and he could be a valuable second-round pickup. The Pacers could very much use some on-ball and wing defensive help after they finished 29th last season in points allowed, giving up 119.5 per game. President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said the Pacers don’t intend to use all five of their picks and Jackson certainly wouldn’t be under consideration for their lottery choice. However, they do have picks at No. 26 and No. 29 where Jackson might make sense and depending on how the lottery shakes out they could also have a pick at No. 32.
Jackson has until 11:59 PM, ET on May 31 to withdraw his name from early entry, but he’s not thinking about that now.
“I’m really just focusing in now just, ‘I’m going and I’m going for it,'” Jackson said. “I’m going into these workouts with the mentality that I’m going to the NBA. I’m working every day to be at that level, and I think I am.”
Jackson was one of six players invited to Saturday’s workout, and if that invite list is any indication, the Pacers seem to be honing in on big wings. That would seem to make sense considering they locked up center Myles Turner to a two-year extension and they are making point guard Tyrese Haliburton the centerpiece of the franchise. They could use more depth at the small and power forward spots — particularly power forward — and the invitations showed that.
Jackson was actually the shortest player the Pacers invited on Friday at 6-6. Jaime Jaquez, a 6-7, 225-pound wing from UCLA was the most decorated college player at the workout. He helped lead the Bruins to the Final Four in 2021 at the bubble tournament in Indianapolis and also helped UCLA to the Sweet 16 in each of his last two seasons. Jaquez scored 1,802 career points in four years with the Bruins and was named a second-team All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year this year.
“I’m just trying to show I can really shoot the ball and play defense at an elite level,” Jaquez said.
Kobe Brown, a 6-7, 250-pound forward from Missouri was also part of the workout after scoring 15.8 points and shooting 45.5% from 3-point range last season. The other three players were forward Arthur Kaluma (6-7, 220) from Creighton, forward Grant Nelson (6-11, 225) from North Dakota State and Liutauras Lelevicius (6-7, 181) from Lithuaina.
“Just my versatility,” Brown said when asked what he’s trying to show. “I pride myself at being able to play anywhere on the floor, just wherever the team needs me.”
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