Campbell, Jaquez Jr. lead talented No. 8 UCLA's title hopes > Dogecointool

Campbell, Jaquez Jr. lead talented No. 8 UCLA’s title hopes

They had made so many trips around the college basketball block that their odometers nearly rolled over. What might they have possibly missed?

Their UCLA journeys included a new coach, a rise to stardom, crushing injuries, a Final Four run, a once-in-a-century pandemic and a loss to Cal State Fullerton, of all things.

Professional basketball beckoned with its big paychecks and singular focus. Classes would be over. Coaches would be more coddling.

Would they move on or come back?

Picking experiences over excesses, Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. would take one last ride together. They would remain Bruins.

“We had talked about in the offseason what our decision was going to be,” Jaquez said on the eve of the eighth-ranked Bruins’ season opener against Sacramento State on Monday night at Pauley Pavilion. “He had opportunities. I had opportunities. Ultimately, we came to the decision that we were going to come back and try to hang banner No. 12 at Pauley Pavilion.”

These weren’t just any players coming back. They were first-team All-Pac-12 talents who were as gritty as their blue-collar coach, the perfect protagonists to give a freshman-heavy team the toughness and savvy it needed for a national championship run.

One was a floppy-haired point guard known for perfect passes being asked to become a volume shooter in the mold of a future Hall of Famer.

“I want him in Steph Curry mode,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of Campbell.

The other was an old-school small forward no longer burdened by an ankle that’s been surgically repaired, freeing him for more crafty moves around the basket.

“He’s going to score a ton of points,” Cronin said of Jaquez.

What makes their return truly remarkable is that they could become the rarest of breeds in Westwood — senior first-team All-Americans. No UCLA player has earned that distinction since Ed O’Bannon took home almost every conceivable honor in 1995 while leading the Bruins to their last national championship.

Nearly every UCLA star since has stayed for a year or two before taking his talents to the NBA. Loyalty is among the reasons Jaquez and Campbell appear on the verge of becoming two of the most beloved Bruins in a generation.

“I know how important they’ve been to our coaching staff and what we’ve been able to build at UCLA in our time and I hope our fans feel the same love for them that I do,” Cronin said. “I know senior night is going to be tough.”

As he weighed his decision, Jaquez learned about a senior night that never happened. Instead of opting for one final season and a chance to become UCLA’s all-time leading scorer, Tracy Murray chose the NBA and a reserve role as a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers. He passed along his regrets about that choice during a conversation with Jaquez’s father.

“That, for whatever reason, really resonated with me and I proceeded to tell my son Tracy Murray’s advice,” Jaime Jaquez said of the 12-year NBA veteran who is now the Bruins’ radio analyst. “For my son, the right move was to come back to UCLA, have a chance to win a national championship with the staff and enjoy his senior year.”

UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. goes up for a shot against North Carolina's Brady Manek.

UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. goes up for a shot against North Carolina’s Brady Manek during the first half of the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament on March 25 in Philadelphia.

(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Fully embracing the college experience, Jaquez has become a regular spectator at UCLA soccer, volleyball and football games. He’ll add women’s basketball games this season even though their schedule often conflicts with his. His sister, Gabriela, is a freshman guard for the women’s basketball team who will make her college debut before Jaime’s game on Monday as part of a doubleheader.

“I don’t know what the schedule’s looking like,” Jaime said when asked if he could watch his sibling, “but I hope to be there early for her game and try to see her put on that uniform.”

Campbell also has family nearby, his mother and brother Trez recently moving from Nashville, Tenn., to Westwood to be around for Tyger’s final college season. Jennifer Krekeler-Campbell would like to remind everybody that her son has another year of eligibility remaining thanks to COVID-19, but the hope is that the fifth-year senior wins a national title this spring on his way to the NBA.

She has seen UCLA fans celebrate her son in a way they didn’t initially after the 5-foot-11 guard returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that forced him to sit out his first college season. His steady but unspectacular play as a redshirt freshman left some longing for glitzy high school prospect Daishen Nix until Nix reneged on his commitment and opted for the G League over UCLA.

“It’s almost like people felt they were stuck with him and they weren’t that happy because he is what he is — he’s a metronome, Mr. Reliable, but there’s nothing super flashy and super exciting about him,” Krekeler-Campbell said of a player who has logged 2.95 assists for every turnover.

Now it’s as if everybody has come to understand that Campbell and Jaquez are the Bruins’ most indispensable players.

“I think what I see is a realization is that if people want to hang that 12th banner,” Krekeler-Campbell said, “it’s going to go through Jaime and it’s going to go through Tyger.”

UCLA's Tyger Campbell tries to get past North Carolina's R.J. Davis.

UCLA’s Tyger Campbell tries to get past North Carolina’s R.J. Davis during the first half of the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament on March 25 in Philadelphia.

(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

The offense will flow through Campbell in a new way. Freshmen combo guards Amari Bailey and Dylan Andrews will assist with ballhandling duties while also liberating Campbell from always having to defend the opposing point guard.

“With the freshmen coming in, we’re a lot more athletic in certain positions and it’s easier to get up and down the court having more players and more guards,” Campbell said. “I just know when I’m in the game I have to give it all I have because when I’m out, the next person that’s coming in is just as good.”

Campbell has been ordered to hunt shots after spending the summer honing the form that helped him make a career-best 41% of his three-pointers last season. He’ll presumably take even more shots from long range this season in addition to the floaters and contested layups he regularly makes over counterparts several inches taller.

“For him to be selfless, he needs to shoot more now,” Cronin said. “He’s an elite shooter, one of the best in college basketball. His role is dramatically changing.”

Jaquez will be asked to do more of the same things he’s done since moving into the starting lineup against Michigan State only eight games into his freshman season. A year later, he endeared himself to fans of hustle plays when he crawled on the court to pursue a loose ball during an NCAA regional final against Michigan.

Having fully recovered from the ankle issues that limited his mobility, Jaquez should easily top the career-worst 27.6% he shot on three-pointers last season. He missed all three attempts from long range during the season-ending loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16, providing motivation for a summer’s worth of toil.

A less hardy soul might have moved on to the NBA, but Jaquez was driven to return for one last shot at college glory, knowing there were more games to win, more memories to make alongside his longtime teammate.

“Neither one of them have looked at UCLA as, ‘Let me get in here and let me get out,’ and that’s so rare these days,” Krekeler-Campbell said. “It’s not just a temporary landing spot, these guys are friends and they’re going to be brothers for the rest of their lives.”

Their bond is on display every time UCLA warms up. Just watch Campbell take a pass and drive toward the basket, shifting the ball between his legs before throwing a lob off the backboard. Jaquez is always there to dunk it, everyone roaring in delight at the veteran duo who decided playing in college never gets old.

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