More than three hours before the start of the first season, Jamie Jaques Jr. walked into the Pauley Pavilion in an old-fashioned UCLA pilot’s jacket.
Another big game has begun. The little sister was about to make her college debut.
Jaime greeted several fans before taking a seat between his parents six rows closer to the center of the court, his mother wearing a T-shirt that featured both siblings with their last names in the middle. The older brother caught a T-shirt thrown into the crowd and watched intently as sister Gabriela registered for the women’s match at the start of the first quarter.
As Gabriela curled around the double screen to catch the pass and land her first shot with a three-pointer, Jaime rose to shower her with applause. He was joined by teammates Mac Etienne, Will McClendon and David Singleton to watch the remainder of the first half before they all left to prepare for their game.
As if not wanting to be left behind, Jaime put on an impressive display as he started the Bruins’ eighth-place game against Sacramento State. In the transition, he received a pass from Jaylen Clarke with a two-handed dunk. He benefited from a soft bounce off the jumper as the ball fell into the net. He bypassed the defender taken by surprise due to downtime.
All of UCLA’s top six points were held by Jaques.
Showing off his surgically repaired ankle and looking as perky as ever, Jaques helped lead the Bruins to a 76-50 win that was also largely due to Clark’s overall prowess.
On all seven shots, Clark scored a game-high 17 points with eight rebounds, seven steals, four assists and one block. After one interception, he made a breakaway dunk and prevented a Hornets player who had fallen out of bounds from throwing the ball off him, collecting it.
Jaques added 14 points on seven-of-nine effective shooting and seven rebounds, while Tiger Campbell added 14 points on a series of floating shots and two three-pointers.
Accordingly, Jacques and Clarke left the game together with three minutes left and received a standing ovation as they joined hands in front of the bench.
UCLA has returned six players from a team that made it to the Final Four two seasons ago, but Monday’s focus was on the assessment of the team’s six real freshmen.
Fans had to be content with five newcomers. Center Adem Bona was unable to play due to a one-game NCAA suspension due to amateurish rules. He warmed up before the game and will make his college debut on Friday against Long Beach State.
Bona’s absence moved Kenny Nwuba into the starting lineup, while fellow big man Etienne was still getting back into shape recovering from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. Etienne made an instant impression as he entered the game, throwing a shot from outside the field to energize the crowd. The decibel levels rose again as Etienne blocked another shot, ending the first half with three blocks and an interception.
After a seemingly embarrassed roll call from students last week before the exhibition game, the freshmen fully embraced it on Monday. Dylan Andrews put his hand to his ear, and Amari Bailey quickly raised her hand in appreciation.
Bailey received another exceptional Clark transition pass for a layup that represented his first points in college.
Shaking off some early problems, especially on defense, UCLA went 20-0 ahead to make that lead similar to what Gabriela Jaques enjoyed in the women’s game. She finished with 10 points, largely due to making five of her seven free throws, as well as six rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes during her team’s 84–48 victory over California Poly.
The siblings saw each other earlier in the day at the training ground their teams share.
“I thought, ‘Let’s go!’ Gabriela said, remembering the refrain she repeated when she saw her brother again in the middle of the double headline. “It’s a really amazing opportunity to do that with the men’s basketball team.”
This could be the start of something special for both of them.