A cutout photograph of JD Slajchert is raised high over the student section at the Thunderdome on UCSB's Senior Night of 2018.
A cutout photograph of J.D. Slajchert is raised high over the student section at the Thunderdome on UC Santa Barbara's Senior Night of 2018. Credit: Jeff Liang photo

Overview:

JD Slajchert releases his second uplifting novel: ‘Darling, You’re Not Alone’

No Gaucho celebrated his basketball life at UC Santa Barbara more passionately than J.D. Slajchert.

He’d whoop deliriously on the sidelines when Max Heidegger whirled to an acrobatic basket, or feign an exaggerated fainting spell when Christian Terrell threw down a tomahawk dunk.

“My crazy bench celebrations,” Slajchert said with a chuckle as he reminisced about his four, roller-coaster years with the Gauchos.

His fiery red hair, cropped during his playing days in the jarhead look of a U.S. Marine, flows longer in less intense waves now that he’s a successful author. His second book — Darling, You’re Not Alone — is in its second month of release on Amazon.

He’s come a long way in the short time since he brought a Thunderdome crowd of 4,823 to its feet by sinking the last basket on his Senior Night of 2018.

Lighting Up the Thunderdome

J.D. Slajchert raises his arm in triumph after making the last basket of UCSB’s Senior Night victory over Cal Poly at the end of the 2018 regular season. (Jeff Liang photo)

Slajchert was an undersized, 6-foot-6 post player with an oversized heart. He only played in the last two of his four seasons at UCSB, redshirting the first and sidelined in the second by injuries.

But he emerged as a favorite of fan and teammate alike whether he played or not.

A giant, cutout photograph of his beaming face was attached to a stick and hoisted high in the student section of the Thunderdome throughout his playing days.

He was revered as a successor of sorts to Gaucho Joe and the Fantom of the Dome — the spontaneous, nontraditional mascots who spread their spirit organically throughout UCSB’s arena.

“I always thought about it as that these are guys I want to support whether I’m playing 30 minutes or not playing at all,” Slajchert told Noozhawk. “I took a lot of pride in that.”

His last two years at UCSB epitomized the ups and downs of athletics.

The 6-22 record of his junior season, sabotaged by an injury to future NBA player Gabe Vincent and the ineligibility of the Gauchos’ two best post players, marked the program’s fewest win total in 58 years.

Their 23-9 record during his senior year set a school record for victories.

Slajchert’s writing reflects the pendulum of life, swinging from despair to inspiration.

His first book, MoonFlower, was spurred by the battle a young boy waged against sickle-cell anemia.

Slajchert had met him while playing at Oak Park High School. The youth, Luc Bodden, had been the school’s No. 1 sports fan, wearing the team’s colors to every game and fist-bumping its players, win or lose.

Slajchert’s friendship with the little fan continued even after he left Oak Park for UCSB in the fall of 2014. Several other Gauchos, including Vincent, now a key player for the Miami Heat, befriended Luc and his family.

“Every time Gabe comes back to L.A., we make sure to go see Luc’s family,” Slajchert said. “That relationship is really strong.”

Luc was only 10 when he died on Sept. 14, 2016. His death altered Slajchert’s perspective on life.

“I just had what you’d call a great awakening,” he said. “I thought a lot about how I was spending my time. It just didn’t feel that I was making Luc proud enough.

“And I felt this need to tell his story.”

The Write Stuff

J.D. Slajchert’s bench celebrations became a fan favorite at UCSB basketball games during his playing days of 2014 to 2018. (Jeff Liang photo)

He began writing MoonFlower just when he started getting significant playing time with the Gauchos, averaging 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds during the 22 games in which he played in the 2016-2017 season.

He never had to buckle down harder.

“I just got this crazy energy,” Slajchert said. “Despite still being a Division I athlete, despite being a full-time student, I would just get up every day and write, and used the weekends to write.

“I was writing on the bus to Texas A&M, and on the plane to Pittsburgh … It was nonstop. I was being maniacal about it. I didn’t let anything stop me.”

It brought a complete halt to his active social life as a student.

“It’s part of the reason why I’m so close to Gabe Vincent and Sam Walters and Ami Lakoju and all those guys,” he said. “I didn’t go out with my buddies on Friday and Saturday nights — I was just using that time to write.

“But those guys stayed by me, really hard. They just understood.”

MoonFlower was released on the two-year anniversary of Luc’s death. Its success led Slajchert to speaking engagements and the interest of filmmakers. He wound up co-writing an original screenplay about his young friend called, Happy at You.

“I got exposed to a whole other set of literary agents and people and directors — that whole world,” he said. “I sort of felt like MoonFlower had legs to carry it on its own, so I started writing a second novel.

“I wasn’t sure how easily that would come being that this one was purely fictional and MoonFlower was based mostly on a real-life story, of my relationship with Luc and my relationship to Santa Barbara.”

Spurred by Real-Life Tragedy

UCSB graduate J.D. Slajchert recently published his second book, Darling, You’re Not Alone, which deals with the subject of school shootings.

Although the plot of his second book is fictional, it’s rooted in another local relationship.

Darling, You’re Not Alone is about a young boy who suffers from anxiety and depression who is “caught in the crosshairs of a school shooting.”

Slajchert was living with Dr. Brian Mack and his wife, Lara Cerrito Mack, at the time they were wounded in the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. The shooter killed 60 people and wounded at least 413 before turning the gun on himself.

“They both, thankfully, made full recoveries,” Slajchert said of the Macks, “but I was so upset by what happened. I wasn’t even sad. The main triggering emotion was anger.

“I told myself at that moment, ‘One day, I’m going to come back and write a book about a shooting, about gun violence.’ It’s so senseless, and it’s something that we’ve just become numb to.

“But I wanted to write a book that approached it in a way that was hopeful, too.”

Slajchert’s motivation for writing Darling intensified a year later when his hometown of Thousand Oaks was rocked by a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill that killed 13 and wounded more than 20.

His book is set in the fictional town of Darling, Colorado, in 1999. It’s no coincidence that the shooting at Columbine (Colorado) High School occurred that same year.

At the time, the Columbine massacre was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. The two shooters killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded more than 20, before killing themselves.

“I did a lot of research, and in the back of my book are some statistics that have been compiled since Columbine,” Slajchert said. “It’s pretty alarming how bad it is.”

Letters from Heaven

J.D. Slajchert fires up his UCSB basketball teammates in a huddle during a game in the 2017-2018 season. (Jeff Liang photo)

Slajchert’s protagonist in Darling is a boy named Phoenix Iver. He is 10 at the start of the novel and 15 when the school massacre takes place.

“He is a very troubled kind of kid, and he survives this terrible, tragic shooting,” he said. “But he has a very close relationship with his father, Herman, who tries to find different ways of motivating him and giving him this light in the world.

“Phoenix isn’t really sure where he’s getting all this warmth and positivity, but we learn in the second half of the book that his dad is secretly delivering what I would call mail from heaven to all the people of Darling, Colorado.

“When someone passes away, they’re given the chance to write one letter to a loved one back on earth.”

Slajchert’s interest in writing began with the letter exchange he had in college with a girl who was living abroad. He even recently started a project to promote letter writing.

“It was a big part of me even before I started writing books,” he said. “I just liked writing little notes to people all the time.”

In Slajchert’s book, it is Phoenix who winds up delivering the letters from heaven to the grieving people of Darling.

“I really don’t consider myself a writer as much as I do someone who’s trying to use a book to bring hope and positivity,” he said.

Fans at the Thunderdome will long remember that Gaucho.

Mark Patton

Mark Patton, Noozhawk Sports Columnist

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at sports@noozhawk.com. The opinions expressed are his own.