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Low Profile : After Starring Role, Jalewalia Enjoys Being One of the Crowd

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amy Jalewalia stood 18 feet from the basket with the ball. This was trouble.

What would it be? The jump shot? Maybe the base-line drive? Or, possibly, one of those tricky moves, like an off-balance jumper from the corner?

This, after all, was the scoring machine from La Quinta High School. The prized recruit of the UCLA women’s basketball team. A player who had led the state in scoring as a junior in high school and was second as a senior.

Jalewalia eyed the basket and then dribbled toward the base line.

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She burst past the defender, drove to the hoop and . . . passed.

Passed? Wait a minute, what’s wrong with Amy?

Actually, nothing.

It may be difficult to convince some of her friends, but Jalewalia is doing just fine, thank you. After two pressure-filled years of stardom at La Quinta, she is enjoying a low profile as a freshman at UCLA.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really expecting to play that much this season,” Jalewalia said. “Even if I did play, I wasn’t going to score points like I did in high school. That didn’t bother me. I really prefer it.”

A starter in all but one of the Bruins’ game, Jalewalia has become just another contributing player.

But, after being a mega-star in high school, it’s nice to be one of the crowd again. And Jalewalia is cherishing her role as a role player.

She scores a little, rebounds some and looks to pass more than she does to shoot. Her numbers reflect that, as she’s averaging 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

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“I like doing the little things, the stuff that doesn’t even show up in the stats,” said Jalewalia, a 6-foot-1 forward. “I’ve seen some players get consumed by their reputations. I like to be down to earth about those types of things.”

The idea of stepping out of the spotlight was one of the reasons Jalewalia selected UCLA in the first place.

As a junior at La Quinta, she averaged 32 points. She followed that up by averaging 34.2 points as a senior, as she led the Aztecs to the Southern Section 4-A title and was named the Division II player of the year.

There were many recruiters who tried to woo her with promises of the same type of success. Some even told her that the entire offense would be built around her.

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What they didn’t understand was that, after carrying a team for two years, Jalewalia wanted a rest.

“I would have coaches telling me that I would average 30 points per game and I would be the star right away,” she said. “I didn’t want that.”

Choosing UCLA eliminated that problem. The Bruins already had a star in Rehema Stephens, who is averaging 27 points.

It has turned out to be a good decision for Jalewalia. By going to UCLA, she has developed at her own pace.

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Anonymity gave her time to adjust to the academic workload during the first semester. And when practice began in October, Jalewalia was able to take her time to learn the system.

She wasn’t even expecting to start, a dramatic change after playing nearly every minute during her four years at La Quinta.

“I was looking forward to sitting on the bench,” she said. “You can learn a lot about the game just by watching.”

But her talent made that impossible. A strong all-around player, Jalewalia impressed Coach Billie Moore.

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“It became very clear in practice that Amy could do a lot of things we wanted at the power forward,” Moore said. “We were very impressed with her ability to run the floor.”

When the season started, so did Jalewalia, at power forward.

“When they told me I was going to start, I was stunned,” Jalewalia said. “In fact, the other players on the team still tease me about my reaction. It was like, ‘What? Who me?’ ”

Jalewalia has struggled to find consistency, especially early in the season.

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In a game against Kansas, she missed on all six attempts from the field. There was also a three-game stretch when she made only one field goal.

After nine games, Jalewalia--who once scored 60 points in a game against Kennedy--had only 57 points.

“Amy has given us some exceptional halves,” Moore said. “Her biggest difficulty has been sustaining it. That will all come with time. We expect her to became a very productive offensive player in the future.”

Jalewalia has contributed in other ways. Against Kansas, she had 11 rebounds, and against St. Mary’s, she had four steals.

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“I had some problems adjusting to this level,’ Jalewalia said. “There are so many talented players, it was hard. I’m only a freshman and I was still learning.”

The change from high school standout to collegiate role player hasn’t bothered Jalewalia. Even when she was at La Quinta, she down-played her successes and disliked the notoriety.

In fact, her friends were always teasing her about being the star. Some of those same friends have been stunned by her low point production this year.

“I would score six points in a game and people would be asking what was wrong,” Jalewalia said. “I try to tell them that it’s a totally different ballgame now.”

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Still, there have been some flashes of the old Jalewalia. Against Stanford, she had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Early in the game, Jalewalia drove to the baseline, leaned in, and sank a jump shot.

“I knew I was on,” Jalewalia said. “I made my first shot, this baseline jumper, and I was totally off-balance. Usually, when I get my lucky shots to go in, it’s a good sign.”

She made eight of 19 shots against the Cardinal, one of the top teams in the nation. Still, the game doesn’t bring back good memories.

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“We lost,” Jalewalia said. “The one time I play well and we lose. I was really down about that.”

Besides Stanford, Jalewalia has also had strong games against Arizona (15 points) and Washington State (14 points).

All three of those games have come in the last month, when Jalewalia has found a measure of consistency. In her last 12 games, she has scored in double figures seven times.

“It’s a lot easier to play without the burden of, ‘You have to score or we’ll lose,’ ” Jalewalia said. “I guess some people like the pressure of being a big name. But it’s a lot to live up to.”

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