UConn’s Andre Jackson Jr. joins small group of Section II players to have reached the Final Four

UConn's Andre Jackson, Jr. (44) is one of a few former Section II players to have reached the Final Four.

UConn’s Andre Jackson, Jr. (44) is one of a few former Section II players to have reached the Final Four.

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You can mine the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in any given year and usually turn up a former Section II player on one of the rosters.

Naturally, it’s more difficult to find one nestled in the more remote depths of the bracket, specifically in the Final Four, but we’ve got a glittering nugget this weekend in the form of Andre Jackson Jr., the junior guard from Amsterdam who has helped lead fourth-seeded Connecticut to a national semifinal game against Miami on Saturday night.

These days, the term “Final Four” carries more weight than it would have in the early years of the tournament, considering 68 teams now make the field, whereas field size was only eight teams from 1939-50 and incrementally grew through the decades since.

For example, when Hall of Famer Pat Riley, who graduated from Linton High in 1963, played in the 1966 national semifinals for the University of Kentucky, the entire NCAA tournament field consisted of just 22 teams.

The Wildcats defeated Duke in the semis and lost to the Texas Western Miners — now UTEP — in the national championship game commemorated in the movie “Glory Road.”

Riley’s appearance came in the lower-case final four, two words coupled by mere fact. The term didn’t achieve iconic Final Four status until the late 1970s.

Likewise, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons grad Dick Grubar made it to the national semifinals three years in a row with North Carolina, from 1967-69, when the field size was 23, 23 and 25, respectively. Unfortunately for Grubar and the Tar Heels, those three seasons occurred during the UCLA Bruins’ remarkable run under head coach John Wooden of 10 national championships in 12 years. 

Upper-case “Final Four” came into vogue in 1978, and a year after the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the NCAA began incorporating “Final Four” into the logo recognizing the host city and/or arena.

Here’s a glance at the short list of former Section II players who have enjoyed the privilege of Final Four experience since then, a list that the Albany Academy graduate Andre Jackson will join on Saturday:


The 6-foot-9 center grew up in Brooklyn, but graduated from Shaker in 1980, just in time to join a North Carolina team that would reach not only the Final Four, but the national championship game, two years in a row.

The 1981 Tar Heels defeated Ralph Sampson and Virginia, as the freshman Perkins produced an identical stat line (11 points, nine rebounds) as the national player of the year. The n North Carolina lost to the Isiah Thomas-led Indiana Hoosiers for the title.

In 1982, Perkins went 9 for 11 for 25 points and 10 rebounds in North Carolina’s 68-63 victory over Clyde Drexler and Houston, then edged Georgetown 63-62 in the game perhaps best known for the Hoyas’ Fred Brown mistakenly passing to the Tar Heels’ James Worthy for a turnover at a key moment in the closing seconds of the game. Michael Jordan was a freshman for North Carolina.


After the 1987 Shenendehowa graduate won a state championship with Shen as a senior, the winning just kept happening for him, as Final Four appearances became almost a matter of routine for Koubek at Duke.

He remains the only player to have played in the Final Four four years in a row, but it took the fourth one for he and the Blue Devils to finally go all the way and win the national championship.

Duke lost to the Danny Manning-led Kansas Jayhawks in the semis in 1988, lost to Seton Hall in the semis in 1989 and reached the title game in 1990 with a win over Arkansas, only to be blown out by UNLV 103-73 when point guard Bobby Hurley came down with an intestinal bug.

The Blue Devils got a double dose of revenge in Koubek’s senior year when they beat UNLV in the semis and Kansas for the national championship.


A star at Saratoga Catholic, where Cherry graduated in 1989, he was little-used in college at North Carolina, but experienced the Final Four twice, the first when Cherry was a sophomore and the Tar Heels lost in the national semis to Kansas in 1991.

Again with the North Carolina revenge over Kansas, the Tar Heels defeated the Jayhawks in the 1993 semis 78-68, as Cherry got in the game for two minutes, and he became a national champion when Carolina beat Michigan and the Fab Five 77-71 in the game best known for The Timeout.

With 11 seconds left, Chris Webber called a timeout that the Wolverines didn’t have, leading to two important technical foul free throws by Donald Williams. Cherry made it into the box score, with one minute played.


As rare as it is for a Section II player to reach the Final Four, the college careers of two of them dovetailed at the 2003 Final Four, and one was 1999 Schenectady High graduate James Thomas.

He starred for the Patriots as a junior when they won the 1998 Class A New York state championship before going on to become a solid player for the Texas Longhorns, who reached the Final Four in 2003 to face …


… and Syracuse University. A 7-foot center who graduated from Columbia High in 2001, Forth scored two points in 21 minutes of the Orangemen’s 95-84 win over Texas in the 2003 semis, as Thomas finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.

Like Jackson, Forth enjoyed a run to the Final Four in front of a hometown crowd, as Syracuse played in the regional semis and finals in Albany (Jackson and UConn won first- and second-round games at MVP Arena two weeks ago).

After beating Texas, Syracuse and Forth won the 2003 national championship with an 81-78 victory over Kansas, as Forth scored six points in 24 minutes.

Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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