Jacque Vaughn has been playing basketball against older kids since before grade school, sometimes reluctantly but almost always successfully.
When he was 5, he played against 8-year-olds in a Los Angeles recreation league at the urging of an older brother.
"My brother Marlon told me to play and I didn't want to and I was crying but I still played and I did OK," Vaughn said.
With success came confidence. He remembers how he would tag along with Marlon in hopes of getting a chance to play pickup games.
"Whenever I watched my brother play, I always took my shoes along just in case they needed an extra player," Vaughn said. "I always wanted to play with older people because of the competition."
That goes a long way toward explaining how rapidly Vaughn's stock has risen in the eyes of college recruiters since he arrived at Muir High a year ago.
A sophomore now, Vaughn competed against mostly seniors at the recently concluded Superstar Camp in Santa Barbara and was named one of the top 15 players. Pretty heady stuff for a 15-year-old.
Rocky Moore, Muir's first-year coach, said Vaughn's success at the prestigious camp has been generating inquiries from college coaches.
"I've still got coaches calling me," Moore said, weeks later. "I'll talk to some coaches and tell them he's a sophomore and they'll say, 'Get out of here!' In fact, one former coach at USC called me and said, 'I can't believe he's that good already.' "
Just how good is the 5-foot-11 point guard?
"He's going to be one of the premier players in high school basketball," Moore said. "He's got instincts for the game that you don't teach. He's got innate skills that are just remarkable."
Aside from natural ability, Moore attributes Vaughn's rapid ascension to his approach to practice.
"Each time I step out on the court I try to give 100%," Vaughn said. "The one thing I want to maintain is the hard-work ethic."
Vaughn could have been excused for feeling jittery in his first appearance at the Superstar Camp, which attracted 288 players and about 150 college coaches.
But Vaughn said he came to Santa Barbara as if he had nothing to lose.
"When I went into the camp, I came with the attitude that I was just going to do my best no matter who was there," he said. "There were a lot of big people there and a lot of scouts but I just tried to block that out of my mind." He said the biggest problem he faced at the start of camp was exhaustion from having played in the West Coast Invitational Camp the previous week at Cal Poly Pomona.
"I tried to block out the side distractions and the only thing that bothered me was the tiredness and I was able to overcome that," Vaughn said.
It was after the first day of Superstar Camp, when he began to grow accustomed to his new teammates, that Vaughn said he played his best.
"I didn't do that bad the first day but I didn't really know my teammates and I had to get used to them and get a feeling for them," he said. "I really felt good after that, and as the days progressed, I got to know the players better as persons and basketball players."
Vaughn said he wasn't surprised by his performance at the camp.
The performance may have been a surprise, though, to those who last saw Vaughn playing as a freshman at Muir with moderate success. He averaged 10 points and six assists.
For Vaughn, the season was a good learning experience.
"At the beginning of the season I was jittery," he said. "I didn't perform as well as I could have because I didn't have the confidence. But as time went on I gained more confidence. I started every game except one or two and I really got the feel of the (Pacific) league and what it's like to play high school varsity basketball."
He said the year of experience will benefit him greatly in his sophomore season.
"My experience last year has really helped me out because this year I can be more of the leader that I want to be," Vaughn said. "Last year I was really not as vocal as I'd like to be because I was just a freshman and I didn't know everyone (on the team). I was just a small fish in a big pond and I had to get used to everything."
In practice during the off-season, Vaughn said he has focused on his passing and shooting skills. It is his outside shooting, he said, that needs the most work.
"If I could get a three-point shot mastered, my game would be at its peak or close to it," he said. "It's something that I'm definitely going to work on."
Vaughn expects to grow another two or three inches before he finishes high school, which should add to his college marketability.
"It's hard to say just how good he can become," Moore said. "It's whatever he wants to achieve."
With that in mind, Vaughn has set some lofty goals for himself starting with his education.
"Academically I have a 4.0 grade-point average and I want to continue with it all through high school," he said.
His goals on the basketball court are equally ambitious.
"I want (Muir) to win state before I get out of high school," Vaughn said. "As a junior I want to be the best guard in the state and as a senior I want to be the best guard in the U. S. Of course, I'd like to be in the NBA someday. I think I have a chance for all of that if I keep improving and working at it."
Vaughn is still a long way from accomplishing those goals. But with his success in the recent Superstar Camp, he is striding in the right direction.