Jaime Jaquez Jr. arrived at UCLA as a willowy prospect fighting for minutes. His nearly shaved head, a remnant of a rookie ritual with the Mexican national team, symbolized necessary growth while endearing him to a bald coaching staff.
Four years later, Jaquez has sprouted into a brawny veteran who almost never leaves a game. His thicket of locks billowing over a blue headband has become another metaphor.
He's all grown up.
Flourishing like never before for a team that ran away with the Pac-12's regular-season championship, Jaquez was recognized Tuesday by conference coaches who selected him as the Pac-12 player of the year.
The senior forward became the Bruins' first winner in that category since Kevin Love in 2008 and was part of UCLA's nearly clean sweep of the conference's major awards. Mick Cronin was honored as the Pac-12's coach of the year, Jaylen Clark was the defensive player of the year and Adem Bona the freshman of the year. The only major awards that did not go to the Bruins were for most improved player, Arizona's Oumar Ballo, and sixth man of the year, USC's Reese Dixon-Waters
Jaquez was the most indispensable player on the indisputably best team in the Pac-12, which No. 2 UCLA won by four games over Arizona and USC. While Arizona's Azuolas Tubelis led the Pac-12 in both scoring (19.8 points per game) and rebounding (9.1), Jaquez was a more complete player, given his superior defense. Jaquez averaged 17.4 points and 8.0 rebounds while never being removed late in games for defensive purposes as Tubelis was.
Jaquez was also a force late in games, helping the Bruins close out recent victories over Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Colorado with a flurry of points in the final minutes.
Cronin snagged his second conference coach of the year award in four seasons after his Bruins won their final 10 games to go 18-2 in Pac-12 play, easily outdistancing the Wildcats (14-6) and Trojans (14-6). Even with two freshman starters learning his famously demanding style, Cronin's team built what was clearly its best defense since his arrival. The Bruins gave up a conference-best 60.1 points per game, keeping them in every game even when their offense suffered extended lulls.
Clark was the centerpiece of that defense, averaging a Pac-12-leading 2.6 steals per game before suffering what appeared to be a serious injury against Arizona last weekend. His final play involved a steal and layup before departing with the unspecified injury early in the second half.
Moving into the starting lineup only a handful of games into his freshman season, the fiery Jaquez became the spiritual cornerstone of Cronin's rebuilding efforts. He helped his team reach the Final Four as a sophomore and gutted through bothersome ankles as a junior before showing what he could do when fully healthy in his final college season.
Jaquez and Tyger Campbell were named to the Pac-12's all-conference first team, marking a third consecutive selection for Campbell. Jaquez was on the first team last season and the second team in 2020-21, making him and Campbell the Bruins' first three-time all-conference selections since Darren Collison from 2007-09.
USC's Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson also earned a place on the Pac-12's first team, with Trojans big man Joshua Morgan making the all-defensive team.
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