UCLA season ticket holders arriving for the Bruins' exhibition home opener November 9 saw the two freshmen they'd heard about in Markel Walker and Mariah Williams. But there was another new player on the bench with the team.
"Who's that?" many fans asked each other.
They didn't truly find out until 10 days later when, as the Bruins were in the process of crushing Hawaii, Coach Nikki Caldwell sent in Jackie Shepard late the game. Fans may not have known quite who she was yet, but they cheered wildly when she successfully put up a floater.
Shepard had made her debut. As such, she's the first walk-on to the team that anyone can remember, spokesman Steve Rourke said.
Assistant Coach Tony Perotti, who with the rest of the UCLA coaching staff came from the University of Tennessee, said there had been a couple of walk-ons in Knoxville over the years. But that isn't the ususal protocol at either school.
"It's not unprecedented, but it's unusual," Perotti acknowledged.
San Mateo County star Shepard finished her high school hoops career last March at Menlo High School by breaking records: She set a school record for most points in a game with 51, set a single-season scoring record with 766 points, had a single-season scoring average record of 24 points per game, and finished second on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,697 points.
But Shepard was without a scholarship at season's end because she'd given up basketball in favor of softball the previous year. All summer long, during the July basketball viewing period, Shepard was playing another sport.
But as she began her senior year, Shepard had a change of heart.
"In my senior year I decided that I wasn't ready to be done with basketball," she said. "So I went back."
As she finished in grand style, Shepard also made the decision she was going to go to school in Westwood.
"I've always wanted to go to UCLA," she said.
But before Shepard went, Stanford Assistant Coach Bobbie Kelsey -- who lives in a guest house belonging to Shepard's parents -- made a call on her behalf.
"Bobbie called and said Jackie is going to UCLA and is interested in becoming a part of the team somehow," Perotti said. "She had already been admitted to the school and was set on coming here."
Shepard came to campus last spring to get a feel for the school, and she stopped by the women's basketball office. Coach Nikki Caldwell accepted her as a practice player who would also support the team. Perotti said Shepard has filled her role exceptionally well.
"She's been doing everything we've asked," he said. "She comes in every day, does her job and does it everyday with great effort. She's been a real big help in practice."
Perotti said that because the staff uses male practice players at times, there are days when Shepard doesn't get much time on the floor. But he said she never complains. Instead, she's "done a real good job of getting herself into the mix."
"They respect her for that," he said. "The team is pretty close, and they accept her."
Shepard said she likes her teammates, and she appreciates the high expectations Caldwell and her staff set for their team.
"They tell us exactly what they want from us, and we work to execute it as simply as possible," she said.
Perotti said Shepard's skills have improved a lot since the fall. Putting her in games was "a reward" for her at the beginning, but she was now been officially added to the team's roster.
"We appreciate having her," he said.