Jaelynn Penn returns to UCLA women’s basketball as graduate assistant
Former UCLA women’s basketball graduate student guard Jaelynn Penn dribbles with the ball. Penn is returning to the Bruins’ program as a graduate assistant for the upcoming season, helping the coaches with scouting, training and mentoring. (Marie Goldfarb/Daily Bruin)
By Lauryn Wang
July 15, 2022 12:16 p.m.
This post was updated July 18 at 12:04 a.m.
With graduation comes uncertainty, but for Jaelynn Penn, one thing is for sure: She is staying in Westwood for another year.
The former UCLA women’s basketball graduate student guard has been hired as a graduate assistant for the Bruins’ program. After a four-year stint with Indiana, Penn transferred to UCLA for the 2021-2022 season and averaged 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
The starter missed eight games because of a hand injury but still exhausted her final year of eligibility in her lone season with the Bruins. Penn has aspirations to play professionally, but she did not pick up a WNBA training camp contract following the 2021-2022 season.
Penn said her goal is now to impact the program in a different capacity than as a player, from recruiting to training and mentoring.
“I work a lot with Coach Shannon (associate head coach Shannon LeBeauf), so right now we’re doing a lot of recruiting stuff,” Penn said. “I’ll probably be watching some film later this evening to help them out with scouting teams, and then I’ll be at practices, too, helping out the girls … just learning the role of coaching.”
Coach Cori Close said because the prospects for female basketball players interested in playing professionally are so limited, exposing her team to Penn’s journey and discipline along that path is key. Balancing her job and professional prospects will be a learning opportunity for both Penn and the players who look up to her, Close said.
“She is going to have to put in extra time on her own so she can be ready to be at the end of this a WNBA player or playing overseas,” Close said. “If you want to be elite, if you want to go pro, there’s a really narrow path, (and) there aren’t a lot of choices. To be able to watch her example in that is a tremendous thing.”
Penn said her fellow coaches, whom she now considers colleagues, have fostered her development as a leader this past year. In particular, she said she admires LeBeauf and her coaching style.
“I’m more like Coach Shannon. She’s more laid back and quiet, and she’s a perfect leader,” Penn said. “She gave me a lot of motivation and inspiration to see myself as a leader and a mentor, to put myself in those shoes, that I could be that. That was definitely one of the biggest things I’ve learned here at UCLA.”
While she continues to make strides in her leadership skills, Penn said staying connected to the program is especially exciting considering the high expectations for the blue and gold. The Bruins recently welcomed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to Westwood for the upcoming season.
UCLA ranked No. 20 in the preseason AP Poll but ended the conference slate with a .500 record in the Pac-12 while dealing with a short bench and multiple game cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19.
When it came time for postseason play, the Bruins missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in seven seasons. They competed in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament instead but fell to South Dakota State in the semifinals to cap off the year.
Penn said the unfinished business of last season is motivating her to embrace the challenges and expectations of her new position.
“It’s a big year for UCLA women’s basketball,” Penn said. “I just want to be part of something better from last season to this season – growth, winning, success, (and) really just have an impact on the program being a GA … like this program is better because I’m here.”