He’s playing the best basketball since his high school heyday when he led Rainier Beach to back-to-back Class 3A state titles and was the 2014 state player of the year as a senior.

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Shaqquan Aaron’s first homecoming to Seattle didn’t go so well.

In 2015, the former Rainier Beach High star was a freshman reserve with the Louisville Cardinals, who came to Seattle for a pair of games at KeyArena in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.

It was a rocky time for Aaron, who had been publicly scorned by coach Rick Pitino for inconsistency. After missing the first nine games of the season due to an NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits in high school, Aaron quickly fell out of favor and plummeted to the bottom of the rotation at Louisville.

Aaron didn’t play in the round-of-64 game and tallied just five minutes two days later during Louisville’s victory in front of a smattering of his family and friends.

The Cardinals played two more games that season, and Aaron logged a total of seven scoreless minutes in the Big Dance. That season, he averaged just 1.3 points while shooting 26.2 percent from the field in 23 games.

Fast-forward two years, and Aaron returns to Seattle once again.

He has a new team — the USC Trojans (18-4, 5-4 Pac-12), who play Washington (9-12, 2-7) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Alaska Airlines Arena on ESPNU.

The 6-foot-7 sophomore is a little older and more mature, he said. Admittedly, he’s still skinny but has added about 15 pounds to his 190-pound frame.

And he’s playing the best basketball since his high-school heyday when he led Rainier Beach to back-to-back Class 3A state titles and was the 2014 state player of the year as a senior.

“USC was the right place at the right time for me,” said Aaron, a native of Pomona, Calif., who played his freshman year at famed Mater Dei High, a private school in the Los Angeles area.

“In some ways, this was a homecoming for me coming here,” Aaron said of his return to Los Angeles. “I know a lot of people here. I needed this — a fresh start. It feels good. I’m in the right spot, finally.”

Aaron, who sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules, is averaging 9.4 points and 3.8 assists during 22 games and 16 starts for the Trojans.

Last Wednesday, he had his best college game, tying career highs in points (23) and three-pointers (four) during USC’s 84-76 upset over then-No. 8 UCLA.

The stellar performance earned him Pac-12 player of the week honors Monday, which heightens the anticipation of the game in Seattle in front of his own personal rooting section.

“I never get nervous in those situations,” Aaron said. “It’s exciting to have family and friends watch you play. They all want you to play well.”

The USC-UW matchup reunites Aaron and Huskies sophomore guard David Crisp, his former Rainier Beach teammate.

“It’ll be like Rainier Beach practice,” Aaron said. “Me and David used to battle all the time against each other.”

Crisp said: “It’s going to be fun. He’s that guy that I remember — that guy who can get buckets. Shaq has always been able to score.”

Not so long ago, Aaron, Crisp and Dejounte Murray, another former Rainier Beach star who played last season at UW before turning pro and being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, dreamed of playing with each other in college.

Murray and Crisp tried to lure Aaron to the Huskies when he initially committed to Louisville and after he left the Cardinals.

“It could have been Rainier Beach University all over again,” Crisp laughed.

Three years before the Nathan Hale boys basketball team ascended to the top of the national rankings, Rainier Beach was the toast of Seattle.

The Vikings clobbered opponents en route to a state title and the No. 2 spot in the polls. Rainier Beach’s only defeat was a 67-59 loss to Findlay Prep of Nevada in the first round of the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament.

“We were just dominant,” Crisp said. “We were a lot bigger than everybody. … We were just running people. We really didn’t run any offense. A lot of times people couldn’t get the ball past half court. It was fun. Every game was fun.”

When asked if the 2013-14 Rainier Beach team could beat Hale, which is led by future Husky Michael Porter Jr., Aaron said: “Is that even a question? Beach, baby. No question.”

Crisp concurred.

“Easily we would get them,” he said. “Easily. We had five guys who played defense and didn’t care about scoring, but could just go off at any time.

“Shaq knows all about that. He was a big part of our success. I think about those days all the time.”


• Washington officials expect UW’s first sellout this season for the game Saturday against No. 11 UCLA. About 200 tickets remain.