As a kid growing up in Tacoma and Gig Harbor, JaQuori McLaughlin was a big Washington Huskies basketball fan.
That’s why he committed to play at UW in November 2014.
And, too, why he later rescinded his commitment and committed again to Oregon State, the school he originally chose as a sophomore in high school before then-coach Craig Robinson was fired and replaced by current coach Wayne Tinkle.
“I think (committing to UW) was more of me being a fan than really the overall fit for me as a player,” McLaughlin said by telephone Friday afternoon, a day before his Beavers visit the struggling Huskies for a noon game Saturday at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. “So I decommitted, then chose Oregon State because of the people there I felt really comfortable around.”
The Huskies filled their point guard position by landing five-star McDonald’s All-American Markelle Fultz, a freshman who currently leads the Pac-12 in scoring and ranks second in assists.
McLaughlin is playing a bunch, too — 32.7 minutes per game — and ranks third among OSU’s available players with 11.6 points per game. He had a high of 23 points in a 53-45 loss to the University of Portland on Dec. 18.
The Beavers (4-12, 0-3 Pac-12) have already lost as many games this year as they did during the 2015-16 regular season, which ended with the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1990. The Beavers lost leading scorer Tres Tinkle to a wrist injury. Sophomore guard Stephen Thompson Jr. missed six games earlier this season due to injury. In fact, Beavers players have missed a total of 34 games due to injuries this season.
This means McLaughlin, a 6-4 guard who grew up in East Tacoma before moving to Gig Harbor and starring at Peninsula High School, is playing a slightly bigger role than he anticipated.
“It’s been pretty tough, but we’ve just got to play together as a team and know things are going to get better,” McLaughlin said. “Keep working, keep grinding every day.”
The Huskies (7-7, 0-2) are likely telling themselves the same, though Washington’s situation is more dire, given the growing speculation regarding coach Lorenzo Romar’s job status. UW finished its nonconference schedule with three consecutive victories — against Western Michigan, Cal Poly and Seattle University — before losing its Pac-12 opener to Washington State and dropping an 83-61 decision to Oregon on Wednesday.
One of UW’s biggest problems, Romar said, is its inability to rally when opponents put together a run. They trailed by three points early in the first half against Oregon before the Ducks made a bunch of 3-pointers and ran away. And they led WSU by 13 points in the first half before giving up a pair of runs — one before halftime and one after — that turned it into a down-to-the-wire affair.
“We do need to have a sense of urgency of, every play is so important right now,” Romar said. “Every possession, every pass is so important. And that’s not to create a measure of tension or anxiety, it’s just real. It’s reality. We have to understand it.”
McLaughlin said he’s looking forward to playing in front of family and friends at Hec Ed. Recent history suggests such motivation might be helpful. Several players who prepped in the Seattle/Tacoma area have already had big games against the Huskies this season, including Seattle Prep alumnus D.J. Fenner, now a senior at Nevada (20 points on Dec. 11); Garfield High alumnus Tucker Haymond, now a senior at Western Michigan (28 points on Dec. 18); and, most recently, former Bellarmine Prep star Malachi Flynn (16 points on Jan. 1) and Shorewood High’s Josh Hawkinson (26 points, eight rebounds) for Washington State.
“Going home, you circle that game from Day 1,” Romar said. “Guys always get pretty excited about doing it.”
WASHINGTON (7-7, 0-2 PAC-12) VS. OREGON STATE (4-12, 0-3)
Noon Saturday, Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Washington leads, 158-140.
Statistics for 2016-17:
0 JaQuori McLaughlin, G (6-4, fr.): 11.6 ppg, 2.6 apg.
1 Stephen Thompson Jr., G (6-4, so.): 16.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg.
24 Kendal Manuel, G (6-4, fr.): 8.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
12 Drew Eubanks, F (6-10, so.): 14.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg.
14 Matt Dahlen, F (6-6, jr.): 1.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg.
20 Markelle Fultz, G (6-4, fr.): 22.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 6.1 rpg.
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg.
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 9.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg.
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 12.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg.
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, sr.): 5.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.7 bpg.
Scouting report: Oregon State is the lowest-rated team in the Pac-12 in both RPI (310th) and KenPom (232nd). In other words: If the Huskies can’t beat the Beavers — especially at home — it will officially be time to start wondering whether they’re capable of beating any Pac-12 team. … OSU finished 19-13 last season, earning an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 1990 before losing to VCU in the first round. But the Beavers lost star guard Gary Payton II to graduation, and leading scorer Tres Tinkle — son of head coach Wayne Tinkle — played only six games before sustaining a wrist injury that has kept him out since. … Without Tinkle, who averaged 20.2 points per game before his injury, the Beavers are led in scoring by sophomore guard Stephen Thompson Jr., with sophomore forward Drew Eubanks and freshman guard JaQuori McLaughlin also averaging double figures. … OSU’s 12 losses haven’t exactly come against a difficult schedule. The Beavers have lost at home to Lamar, Fresno State and Savannah State, and to Long Beach State and Portland on a neutral floor. The Beavers’ only victories came against Prairie View A&M, Texas-San Antonio, Southern Oregon (an NAIA school) and Kent State, all in Corvallis. … The Beavers haven’t been bad defensively, ranking 50th nationally in field-goal percentage defense with a clip of 39.8 percent. But they rank eighth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, last in free-throw percentage, 10th in rebounding margin, last in defensive rebounding percentage and last in turnover margin. They also score fewer points per game (66.0) than any other Pac-12 team. … UW and OSU met just once last season, a devastating, 82-81 loss in Corvallis on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Thompson. Replays appeared to show Thompson traveled before he got the shot off, and UW coach Lorenzo Romar was reprimanded by the Pac-12 office for saying as much after the game. Asked Friday if that loss still stings, Romar replied: “Yeah, it’s still there. There was a lot of meaning to that game. There are probably four games since we’ve been here in 15 years that carried a lot of weight, carried a lot of significance on our season, the future, all of that, and that would be one of them.”