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UConn Hoops: Jackson and Hawkins ready to take next step

Last year, Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins combined to score just over 12 points per game. The pair ranked sixth and seventh among Husky scorers, but in the offseason, four of the five above them graduated. Now, with the massive attrition UConn faces, the returning duo at wing will be forced to take the next step–and they’re more than capable of doing so.

Big East Media day at MSG
Big East Media day at MSG (Stratton Stave)

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“I never thought about having a captain,” noted head coach Dan Hurley at Big East Media Day. “Until I met Andre, I never thought about it. He's a true captain in the sense that he takes that responsibility. He's a beautiful human being. He cares about the team's success over his own.”

This is the type of attitude and personality that helps take a player to the next level. Jackson has demonstrated his leadership throughout his career and had significant vocal influence even as a freshman. A factor that can help a player elevate their performance is having a team-first mentality, which Jackson embraces fully.

“My individual success is not my main priority,” Jackson noted “My priority is to win. I'm trying to bring my winning mentality to the team. If I'm attacking the rim in the way I can, I can do more on the court.”

As great as the team mindset is, that doesn’t mean just passing. Jackson is talented and athletic enough that the team benefits when the ball is in his hands and he’s driving to the rack as he mentioned. When you’re able to throw down poster dunks like the Amsterdam, NY native can, the team doesn’t just benefit from those two points.

If you’re at home, then the arena gets louder, the fans begin to get rowdier and the opposing team gets rattled. If it’s an away game, then dunks silence the crowd. From a scoring perspective, the ability to finish at the rim and constantly putting that pressure on the interior forces the defense to pack it in, leaving shooters like Hawkins open. And the benefit of having the team’s dunker also being the passer is that he can turn an easy escape into a quick triple for a teammate.

It all starts with the attacking mindset. The same way attacking can result from the three, threes can be created through attacking. But now that Jackson has two years under his belt and any senior backcourt members are gone, there’s no reason he can’t step up. At some point, his skillset is going to come together for a breakout year. He can score at the hole, he can pass, he’s a phenomenal defender and he has a developing three point jumper that was much better last year (which could be tougher with his pinky being hurt to start the season).

The next guy primed for his breakout year will be joining Jackson in the backcourt.

The Huskies at Big East Media Day
The Huskies at Big East Media Day (Stratton Stave)

“I believe in Jordan like I believe in Adama [Sanogo],” Jackson said. “He's one of the toughest players I've ever had to guard. He can shoot, so you have to stay close and it's really tough with his handle and post-up. I've seen his game improve every day. He's always going to grow and get better. He reminds me of playing against [NBA guard James] Bouknight.”

The praise for Hawkins doesn't just come from the captain. Hurley shared Jackson’s sentiment, noting “Jordan's stronger physically and he did it in big spots last year. The last two-thirds of the Big East season, he was a guy we could rely on.”

Hawkins’ biggest issue last year was his confidence mixed with his injuries. He had a costly turnover against Auburn in the Battle 4 Atlantis last year after playing well all game, which set him back a bit. From there, he showed flashes of ability, but injuries held him back, most notably a concussion that prematurely ended his season.

His shooting ability is great just looking at his form and his 33% mark from deep does not do him justice. It's hard to know how he’ll deal with the increased defensive attention, but even so it’s hard to imagine the figure staying so low. Hawkins also showed his jumping abilities at times, throwing down a few impressive ones down the stretch. He wasn’t in a position to succeed last year, but with a healthy offseason, there’s little stopping him. And the NBA is noticing too.

"He's got some of the best footwork in college basketball,” an NBA scout told ESPN. “How he comes off screens, the quickness of his release. He doesn't need much room. Just get him the ball and he'll figure it out. I love him. He's [UConn's] best prospect. Last year I think it was a combination of his injuries, Tyrese Martin playing a lot at the 3 and then Andre Jackson emerging. I think he's a fringe first-rounder. I think his ceiling is the second-best NBA prospect in the league behind Cam Whitmore. The way he comes off screens is NBA-caliber. He has elite shot-making and 3-point shooting in his skill set."

Regardless of anything else, both players are well set up for successful years. If Sanogo is able to perform for an entire season and Hawkins and Jackson can hit their potentials, there’s no telling what this team could accomplish…

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