Rambling to the Tourney: Traveling to Dallas is a homecoming for Aundre Jackson

DALLAS – They’ve walked into buildings like this in the past, but maybe not as much as others. But to enter American Airlines Arena as they did on Wednesday was very unique for this group.

No, it was far from a full house for Loyola’s open practice before their first round game against Miami in the NCAA Tournament, but it was something to remember. It’s been 33 years since the Ramblers have taken part in the “Big Dance” and it’s something quite different for just about everyone on the bench for the team.

“Do like we normally do, do it like we normally play, and how we would normally prepare for a conference game,” said freshman Cameron Krutwig on how Loyola is dealing with a lot of new this week in Dallas. “We’re doing the same process we did at the MVC Tournament. Now it’s just another week.”

We’ll not really in many ways, but it’s not a bad philosophy for a group that will take the floor for the first time in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

But there is one player on the Ramblers who will feel a bit more comfortable in his surroundings over the next two days or few days depending how the team does on the floor. After all, senior forward Aundre Jackson grew up about 35 minutes away in Kennedale, Texas, right in the middle of a group of family and friends eager to see someone they know get their “March Madness” dream.

“It was an amazing feeling. As soon as I saw we were in Dallas, I jumped up and screamed,” said Jackson, who opened Loyola’s news conference on Wednesday with a question about playing in his hometown. “And ten seconds later, I was on the phone telling my mom telling her I was coming back home to play. I’ve had a lot of people that wanted to see me play college ball, and now they get that chance to, so it’s a great feeling.”

It also completes an interesting journey for Jackson, who followed up a great career Kennedale High School by attending McLennan Community College in Waco for two seasons. After a standout sophomore season which he averaged 15 points and seven rebounds a game, he joined the Ramblers and made an immediate impact on the team off the bench.

Last season he was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s sixth man of the year – a first for Loyola’s program – with 14.1 points and 4.2 rebounds a contest. Jackson continues to play well this year in a reserve role, and his 23 points helped the Ramblers to a December upset of then No. 5 Florida on the road. He finished the year averaging 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds a contest.

“Going along with the culture, I’ll say it’s the little things,” said Jackson of his success and the program’s in his two years at Loyola. “We focus on a lot of little things that help us for the bigger picture, like high hands or like short close outs, no middle and everything. We focus on the very small details that help us become great.”

As long as he’s close to home, Jackson also had to focus on one detail for the next few days: Some home cooked meals.

“I stayed with the team but my mom is coming out today so she’s probably going to cook something up and bring it to the hotel,” said Jackson.

He’s certainly earned it during this week of homecoming history.