College basketball: UCLA's Jaylen Hands hopes to bring more fun after between-the-legs assist
LOS ANGELES -- Even the several thousand fans sitting in the upper levels of Pauley Pavilion could hear it.
"Why?" Steve Alford yelled after Jaylen Hands chucked up a contested 3-pointer early in the shot clock against Stanford last Saturday with UCLA leading by 20 halfway through the second half.
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Thomas Welsh got a block. Hands pushed the ball up in transition and saw Kris Wilkes streaking down the court to his left. Hands jumped 2 feet behind the 3-point line, looped the ball under his right leg and lobbed it to Wilkes, who laid it in. The crowd roared. Even Alford clapped.
As UCLA won its game against Stanford, Hands won the Internet with his between-the-legs lob.
The fearlessly fun freshman point guard is still learning the ups and downs of the college game one ill-advised 3-pointer and highlight-reel assist at a time, but he hopes to help the Bruins thrill more crowds this season, starting with Saturday's rivalry game against USC at Pauley Pavilion at 3 p.m.
"I like to know people are having fun, that's when I think basketball is the best," Hands said. "I want people to walk away saying, 'Man, that was crazy.'"
He accomplished that last week as fans left Pauley Pavilion buzzing.
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Hands had already known brief Internet fame. There are nearly five-minute highlight videos of just his dunks. He has soared over his parents, Ronnie and Ashanti, at a high-school all-star game in his native San Diego, leaped ESPN analyst Jay Williams at the McDonald's All-American Game and bounced over UCLA head coach Steve Alford on the famed Venice Beach basketball courts this fall.
But this pass was a different beast.
Hands was on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that night after the show's Twitter account labeled it the "assist of the year." Pac-12 Networks, Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated all shared it on Twitter almost immediately after Wilkes finished the layup. Ronnie went to the dentist the next day and the dentist brought it up. Another patient chimed in, saying he had seen the clip online, too.
That was when Ronnie knew it was a big deal, even though Hands had pulled off similar plays in high school at least three times.
"The thing with Jaylen is no one ever told him that he couldn't do something like that in that arena in a Pac-12 game on TV and he doesn't differentiate between that and when he does it at home or when he does it in a high school game," Ronnie said. "I think that's his blessing. I think a lot of times, we are limited by what people say you should or shouldn't do. What happens is we kind of shrink to that. Jaylen doesn't have that."
What Hands does have is a wiry 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame packed with speed and athleticism to attack the basket and a sharp pull-up jumper. He is a blue and gold blur in transition. He lights up the arena with an infectious smile he flashes every time he or his teammates make a big play.
"He, to me, just makes things better and exciting and I see that out there on the court as well as everyday life," Hands' mother Ashanti said. "It's not about the flash, it just about everything coming together for the greater good."
Hands became known for his dynamic passing ability and court vision as he grew into a McDonald's All-American. His transition to the college game was slow for the guard known for speed. Hands had just 30 assists to 26 turnovers during nonconference play as he grew into the daily grind of college basketball that includes practice, weights and film study. He has to watch what he eats, and, with both of his parents working in education, he has to stay up on his school work. In between, he finds ways to fuel his love for the game.
"You go through so much and sometimes you lose track of the fact that you're playing a sport that you love," Hands said. "I would just tell myself, 'Know what you're doing, know this is your first love and play it like your first love.'"
“We’re going to get the toughest test that we’ve had in this building since we faced Cincinnati. It will be interesting to see how we respond to that.”— UCLA Basketball (@UCLAMBB) February 1, 2018
Coach Alford, speaking to the media Thursday about the upcoming home game versus USC pic.twitter.com/DQEMXKEuOC
With 35 assists to 16 turnovers in Pac-12 games, Hands' 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio against conference opponents is sixth in the Pac-12. He's the fourth-leading scorer on the team with 11.2 points per game and his 10 assists against Stanford at Pauley Pavilion was a career high and he did it with just one turnover.
"That's what we want him developing into," Alford said after the game. "I think he's got great speed, great quickness. ... He did a really good job of breaking down the defense and then making the right decision."
He didn't always make the right decision that night, of course. When cameras caught Alford speaking to Hands during a timeout immediately after the between-the-legs pass, the coach wasn't scolding the freshman for the over-the-top assist. It was for the bad shot he took on the prior possession.
"That," Hands said, smiling at the fine line he successful traversed, "was a freshman mistake."
This article is written by Thuc Nhi Nguyen from Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.