ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Madness has arrived in Albany. All eight teams scheduled to play at MVP Arena in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament took to the floor for practice and spoke to the media for the first time Thursday. And there are some local ties within those teams that local fans will want to keep their eye on heading into Friday’s four matchups.
At the top of that list: Andre Jackson. The Albany Academy grad will lead fourth-seeded UConn into its’ matchup with 13-seed Iona in game two of the day at 4:30 p.m.
The human highlight reel doesn’t want to hog the spotlight. But there’s one person who’s excited to see the lights shine down on him: his mom.
“She texted me she was so happy; she was gonna cry,” said Jackson. “But, I mean…it’s great to just be able to have such a big game at somewhere so close to home. Honestly, somewhere I grew up comin’ to watch different basketball games and all kinds of stuff. So, it’s awesome. It’s not about me, (though). It’s not my moment; this is our moment. Like, we came here as UConn; not as Andre Jackson.”
That kind of attitude is exactly what Jackson’s coach, Dan Hurley, loves about him.
“Just the gratefulness (I have) to be able to coach somebody that’s like a throwback, old-school (player),” said Hurley. “All he cares about is the team. (He) doesn’t care if he takes a shot. Doesn’t care about his valuation. I don’t know; his NIL valuation. He’s just a throwback, man, that only cares about UConn basketball. When he’s on, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball…”Action Jackson.””
Iona is more than familiar with MVP Arena. The last time it played there back on Jan. 27, an emotional Siena team beat the Gaels after the passing of honorary team member Evan Franz, and forward Michael Baer’s father, John. Iona head coach Rick Pitino says the Saints fans should root on their MAAC brethren, especially, as he put it, after the Gaels had their “you know what’s” kicked two years in a row at MVP.
“We don’t have great memories (here),” said Pitino. “But we took the loss for the Siena fans to make them feel good that night. So, they should be behind us.”
A former Saint will be in action Friday as well. Drake point guard Roman Penn started his career in 2017 playing in what was then the Times Union Center. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs will look to upset the 5-seed Miami (Fl.) tomorrow at 7:25 p.m. Penn had a lot to say to his teammates about the city over the past few days.
“I was just tellin’ them how great of a city Albany was,” said Penn. “And just, you know, this is where I started my career at. I mean, they probly heard it a million times, though; I kept on talkin’ about it. This was the school that, you know, I started my career at, and then this is my last year here. I think (it’s) just the whole full-circle moment.”
And finally, the Great Danes will be represented in Friday’s nightcap between Kent State and Indiana. Golden Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff graduated from the University at Albany, where he helped out with the basketball team.
“Whatever profession you get into, at some point there’s a spark that gives you an opportunity,” said Senderoff. “And for me, my first opportunity was as a student at SUNY Albany. For me personally, it’s great to be back to Albany. But it didn’t matter who we were playing against, or where we were playing. I was just gonna be ecstatic and excited to see our name pop up on the board.”
The action gets started Friday at 2:00 p.m. when the five-seed out of the West region takes on 12th-seeded VCU.
Tune into NEWS10 at 10:30 p.m. and 11:00 for full coverage from MVP Arena, including highlights and post-game reactions.