CORVALLIS, Ore. — Former Oregon State Beaver JaQuori McLaughlin doesn’t consider tonight’s basketball game at Gill Coliseum to be a homecoming.
He has a new home now.
“UCSB has been great for me on the court and off the court,” the junior guard said, “just getting connections with people around campus, and friends, and really just building relationships all around Santa Barbara.”
McLaughlin was a record-setting rookie at Oregon State. His 58 three-pointers shattered the school’s freshman mark and ranks ninth all-time for all Beavers. Washington’s Mr. Basketball of 2016 — a four-star recruit from Gig Harbor’s Peninsula High — averaged 10.5 points and a team-best 3.3 assists that year.
But the dam burst for this Beaver a few games into his sophomore season.
He was suffering post-traumatic stress after having witnessed a terrorist attack during Oregon State’s summer trip to Spain. The team was eating a pregame meal when a van raced through the pedestrian mall on Barcelona’s La Rambla just outside their restaurant window, killing 14 and injuring 100.
A few months later, McLaughlin missed his first 10 threes of the regular season, lost his starting spot, and soon left the school altogether.
“There are some challenges that I’ve been faced with that have impacted me and kept me from being able to compete to the best of my ability in a way that would help my team win games,” he said at the time. “This was an important decision that I did not take lightly and I apologize to the fans that have been supportive and treated me so well, even through tough times.
“It is my hope that even without specific details you can still try to understand that this was about so much more than basketball.”
He left Corvallis and has never looked back. The NCAA granted him a redshirt year for his PTSD and allowed him to start his UCSB career immediately last season.
“I definitely feel like I made the right decision for myself,” McLaughlin said shortly before boarding Tuesday’s team flight to Oregon. “No hard feelings towards them or anything, but I feel like I’m playing for a coaching staff right now that believes in me and is going to let me do what I need to do.”
He’ll face several of his former teammates tonight including four of their starters: Tres Tinkle, Evan Thompson, Zach Reichle, and Alfred Hollins. He knows them well, although he’s stayed in touch with none of them.
“I definitely know some of their tendencies and things like that, having played with them,” he said.
Tinkle, the son of Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle, is averaging a double-double of 21.5 points and 10 rebounds, as well as 4.7 assists. The Beavers are 3-1, with their only loss coming to Oklahoma at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.
“They’ve got great players, they put the work in and they’re having a good year,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not really a surprise.”
McLaughlin’s 336 points in 2016-17 were the seventh-most ever scored by an Oregon State freshman. That team had little chemistry and few victories, however, finishing with records of 5-27 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-12.
“I think it was a combination of injuries and then just a lack of leadership, being such a young team,” he said.
His UCSB team (1-2) is coming off a tough week, having lost twice — at UCLA and at home against Rice — despite leading at halftime both timnes. The Gauchos suffered a historic defeat against the Owls on Saturday, surrendering a 22-point lead in an 82-81 loss.
McLaughlin is convinced, however, that UCSB has the leadership to weather this storm.
“We’re always coming together to talk about what we need to do better, especially as leaders on the team,” he said. “Me, Devearl (Ramsey), Max (Heidegger), Matt (Freeman), Brandon (Cyrus) … Guys are always coming up and talking and texting each other, calling each other.
“We’re always staying on top of each other and holding each other accountable.”
McLaughlin averaged 10.3 points and a team-best 3.2 assists per game in his UCSB debut last year, leading the Gauchos to a 22-10 record.
He’s at 9.7 points so far this season, shooting 44.4 percent from the three-point line, although he made just 4-of-14 shots overall in last week’s two defeats.
McLaughlin’s head remains up, nevertheless.
“Coach said something in practice,” he said. “He told us, ‘Things are never as good as they seem and things are never as bad as they seem, so just stay level as a team and know we’ve got to keep working every day.’
“If we stay with the process, things are going to start going our way.”
McLaughlin is already seeing it happen.
“We had two good days of practice where I feel like we improved on a lot of stuff that we didn’t do well in the second half of the Rice game,” he said. “Just staying locked in for 40 minutes will be the big thing for us.”
Tonight’s game will be special for all the family and friends that plan to drive down from Seattle.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
It will also be a chance for a signature win against a Pac-12 team.
But that would have been just as true against UCLA as it would be tonight against his old team.
“I really don’t see it as making a point or anything like that,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a team game, so I’m going to come in with my team and we’re going to try to get the job done together.”
It’s all about UCSB now for the former Beaver from Gig Harbor.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org