There was nothing sunny about JaQuori McLaughlin’s first summer in Santa Barbara.
His right knee hurt and his heart ached even more last year as he watched his new UCSB basketball teammates drill without him.
McLaughlin, a transfer from Oregon State, couldn’t even enjoy the beach.
“I had the brace on,” he explained. “I didn’t want to get sand and stuff in it.”
That bummer summer, however, has been followed this year by a simmering summer of basketball. Although he had a decent sophomore season for the Gauchos, averaging 10.3 points and 3.2 assists, coach Joe Pasternack believes the best – by far – is yet to come.
“JaQuori was out at this time last year, but he’s really looking good now,” he said as his Gauchos drilled during the second of their eight weeks of summer workouts. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen him. I’m really excited about that.
“I think he was just a shell of himself last year just because he had five months of doing nothing.”
McLaughlin, a former four-star recruit out of Gig Harbor, Wash., came to UCSB with all the hype of having set Oregon State’s freshman record of 58 three-pointers. He averaged 10.5 points and 3.3 assists per game.
But it all went to rust as he sat out last summer to heal a deep bone bruise.
“I tried to test the knee during a workout at the end of June and it started hurting,” he said. “I didn’t come back until mid-September and my first full practice was a week before our first game.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a summer like that in basketball, not being able to get into the gym.”
McLaughlin did have some big games last season, getting 18 points and five assists in a win over West Coast Conference power USF.
But he missed all five of his shot attempts the next time out against Bethesda.
“I felt like there were times when I was feeling really good and the next day I would start hurting again,” McLaughlin said. “I feel really good now … no pain. It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long while.”
There is no Gaucho who has improved more, Pasternack said.
“I think he’s made the biggest jump,” he said. “I think he’s going to make the biggest impact from last year to this year.”
That’s saying a lot with a team that McLaughlin believes has improved by leaps and bounds. The biggest difference, he said, is that he and last year’s other newcomers – point guard Devearl Ramsey, power forwards Amadou Sow and Robinson Idehen, and wing players Jay Nagle and Sékou Touré – now have a year’s experience together with senior star Max Heidegger.
“Definitely from last year to now there’s a big difference in our chemistry,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just guys hanging out together outside the court – going to eat, movies, things like that.
“Our comfortability with each other is just through the roof right now.”
Their eight weeks together will include a summer day camp for boys and girls in which they will join the Gaucho coaching staff as instructors.
(The camp will be held at Robertson Gym from Aug. 12-16 – from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, with Friday’s session ending at noon … Call 770-0409, write firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit totalcamps.com/ucsbmensbasketballcamps for more information).
Adding to the Gauchos’ mix are 6-5 junior redshirt Brandon Cyrus, a transfer from DePaul, and Matt Freeman, a 6-10 forward from Oklahoma who will be eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.
“Brandon Cyrus is going to be a huge part of our team this year, bringing a real competitive edge,” McLaughlin said. “And the new players from last year like Jay Nagle and Robinson Idehen and Sékou Touré are going to bring a lot to the team that they didn’t get to show last year.
“Jay has taken a big step in his game in being not just a shooter, but someone who’s also able to attack.”
Freeman, who shot 36.2 percent from the three-point line last year as a top reserve at Oklahoma, recently joined summer workouts after returning from minor, arthroscopic knee surgery.
“He can really shoot the ball,” Pasternack said. “He has NCAA Tournament experience and Big 12 experience, playing at places like Texas and West Virginia and Kansas. He’s a really great leader, so I’m excited about that, too.”
Two other newcomers – 6-5 junior transfer Roberto Gittens from the College of Southern Idaho and 6-10 freshman Jakov Kukic from Indiana’s La Lumiere School – will soon also take part in full workouts. Kukic is playing now for Croatia’s junior national team.
They will join what Pasternack likes to call “a highly competitive environment.”
“That’s what we wanted to build here, to have that kind of depth,” he said.
It’s ratcheted up the temperature at the Thunderdome this summer.
“I love it – I just love the competition,” McLaughlin said. “We play three-on-three and stuff like that, and guys are just getting after it, and after each other, and competing with each other a lot better. I just love it.”
It’s a summer to love, as far as he’s concerned:
“I’m even going to the beach a little more.”