Whether it was in high school or on the AAU circuit, UConn forward Alex Karaban always stepped off the floor at TD Garden with a win in his pocket.

And the redshirt sophomore doesn’t want to see a blemish on that record this week with the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional coming to Boston.

“Having won there is definitely a huge confidence boost,” Karaban told NESN.com. “It’s something I wanted to experience with this UConn team, especially.”

Karaban gets that opportunity with the top-seeded Huskies on Thursday as the reigning national champions take on No. 5 San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s title bout.

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The Sweet 16 matchup also serves as a homecoming for Karaban, who grew up about 30 miles away from TD Garden in Southborough, Mass. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward started his high school career at Algonquin before spending two years at New Hampton School in New Hampshire. There, he became the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020-21 and morphed into a consensus top-50 recruit in the country. He finished high school with one semester at IMG Academy.

With Karaban once again on the March Madness stage with UConn, returning to the area in which his basketball career started and blossomed is incredibly meaningful to the 21-year-old.

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“I think always having the opportunity to play in front of friends and family is special, but to do it in the biggest tournament there is and in the best venue there is in the city, it really is something that means everything to me,” Karaban said. “It’s something I won’t take for granted. At the same time, it’s the biggest game of our season just because if we lose it’s done. We’re not going to take this lightly. We’re going to take this extremely seriously, and treat it like any other March Madness game.”

Treating this like any other NCAA Tournament game will be a difficult assignment for Karaban due to the fanfare he’ll receive in his return to his home state. He’s had approximately 40 ticket requests from family and friends as of late Tuesday night and that number could grow the sooner things get to tip-off.

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That doesn’t bring any added pressure to Karaban, though. He doesn’t feel like he has to raise his game to another level. Just being his usual self on the court will suffice, and that’s certainly enough for the Huskies.

Karaban’s started all but one of UConn’s 36 games this season and averages 13.7 points on 50.1% shooting from the floor to go along with 4.9 rebounds per game. Karaban’s made sure to contribute to two blowout wins in the tournament thus far as well. He scored 12 points in an opening-round win over No. 16 Stetson and chipped in with nine points against No. 8 Northwestern.

“I think it’s more of a special moment and a special opportunity (at TD Garden). I don’t think I have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to showcase out there,” Karaban said. “You’re just going out there with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement just because I am home.”

Karaban’s focus is solely on the game in front of him and not who’s cheering him on from the stands. But there will come a moment against San Diego State when Karaban displays his sharpshooting prowess — he’s a 38.7% 3-point shooter this season, good for second-best on the Huskies — and sinks a shot from deep.

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What is expected to be a large UConn crowd in attendance will erupt as they back the hometown kid. And Karaban will make a subtle gesture that he’s enjoying it all.

“I think that feeling will hit when the game actually happens,” Karaban said. “And I’ll probably have a nice little smile running back on defense.”

It’s going to be hard for that smile to ever come off Karaban’s face given the opportunity in front of him.

From the second Karaban takes the floor at TD Garden to the moment he walks off of it, he’s looking to soak in what he hopes will be another magical experience for him and the Huskies.

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“It’s really special and a dream come true just to play a meaningful and impactful game in front of friends and family in the area I grew up in,” Karaban said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that I’ll never take for granted. It’s a huge blessing to have this happen and I can’t wait for the game on Thursday.”

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images