Maybe a change of scenery was just what Peninsula High School grad JaQuori McLaughlin needed. After leaving the Oregon State program early in the 2017-18 season, McLaughlin has played well early on this season at UC Santa Barbara, which competes in the NCAA Division-I Big West Conference.
McLaughlin, now a redshirt sophomore, said it was a tough decision to leave OSU and the Pac-12 conference.
“I was just going through some tough times with myself and stuff I wasn’t happy about with basketball,” McLaughlin said. “I just didn’t feel like it was the right fit for me and my future. It was really tough. We were five games into the season. I just felt like it wasn’t really the best for me to be there and stick it out.”
For the Gauchos this season, McLaughlin is averaging 12.2 points and is playing over 30 minutes per game.
“Everyone is sharing the ball, trying to get each other shots,” McLaughlin said. “We’re all rooting for each other and we have good chemistry. I feel like right now, we’re relying on our defense. When our offense gets going, we’re going to be really hard to stop.”
McLaughlin faced one more piece of adversity prior to the season, fracturing his right knee during the summer, forcing him to sit out and learn from the sideline. His first full practice wasn’t until a week before the season began.
“I was really anxious to start working out with everyone,” McLaughlin said. “It was really hard just watching everyone work out, learning the system. I just paid attention to everything on the sideline.”
It didn’t take McLaughlin long to get back to full speed. He estimates he was close to 100 percent for the season opener.
The Gauchos are coached by Joe Pasternack, who led the team to 23 wins last season in his first year as the head coach.
“The coaching staff has been great,” McLaughlin said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is just honoring the process every day. Not taking things for granted.”
McLaughlin said he’s been working to elevate his game to the next level at UCSB.
“Just fine tuning a lot of things,” McLaughlin said. “Just getting my percentage up on the 3-point line and finishing at the basket. I’m just going to keep working every day. I’m just trying to be more aggressive. At OSU, I was a little passive. So I’m working on being more aggressive on the offensive end. And just working on my defense, that was the biggest thing.”
McLaughlin, who is studying communications, had a homecoming of sorts on Dec. 2, when UCSB played in Seattle against the University of Washington. The Gauchos took the Huskies down to the wire, but Washington escaped with a 67-63 win.
“That was a really good time,” McLaughlin said. “I wish we could’ve come out with the win, but it was cool to see a lot of people in attendance that I knew. I just appreciate that. There were probably about 30 people that I knew there.”
McLaughlin said he’s learned a lot from his experiences the past couple years.
“Just going somewhere that really fits you,” McLaughlin said. “Finding a coaching staff that really cares about you and cares about your goals.”
The ultimate goal, for McLaughlin, remains the same.
“I’m going to play in the NBA,” he said.