Jaime Jaquez Jr. hopes to make familia proud, aims to inspire future Latino players
Freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. has Mexican heritage on his father’s side and spent time competing with Team Mexico at the Pan American Games in the summer of 2019. The Camarillo, California, native said he strives every day to inspire the Hispanic community of Southern California with his work on the court. (Daanish Bhatti/Daily Bruin)
By Jared Tay
Feb. 28, 2020 12:35 a.m.
Translated into English, the Spanish word literally means family.
But that translation wouldn’t be complete.
The word spans further than just the immediate family: brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents. It’s a concept that that conveys an all-encompassing, tight-knit community – one that is welcoming, warm and unconditionally loving.
It refers to a broader cultural community and one that freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said has defined him on and off the court as a young student-athlete.
Since earning a regular spot in UCLA men’s basketball’s (18-11, 11-5 Pac-12) starting lineup at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in November, the importance of family and the significance of representing Jaquez’s Latino roots haven’t been flooded out by the bright lights of Pauley Pavilion.
“(Seeing the support of the Latino community) is definitely special, especially after the games,” Jaquez said. “Kids come up to me, and their parents (are) saying, ‘Go Mexico,’ or, ‘We’re Mexican too, we really appreciate you.’ It’s really special to see how I’m influencing other young Latino kids trying to play basketball.”
Hailing from Camarillo, California – less than 50 miles from the campus of UCLA – Jaquez is constantly reminded about the impact that he can have for Latinos all over Southern California.
“You know, Southern California, there’s a lot of Mexicans and Latino people,” Jaquez said. “So (it’s about) understanding what it means and representing that, through basketball, through my everyday life.”
Before he was a blip on the college recruiting map, Jaquez was a four-year varsity letter winner at Adolfo Camarillo High School – a school in which approximately 38% of all students identified as Hispanic in 2014.
Jaquez’s skill on the court warranted offers from more prestigious private high school programs, but the then-high school junior decided to remain and play for the only community he knew, with his teammates who he said had become part of his family since childhood.
“Everyone I ever knew was at Camarillo High School, so I didn’t really want to go anywhere else,” Jaquez said. “I was going to play basketball with my friends that I grew up with, and we were going to ride or die no matter what. We made a name for ourselves during our time there, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
Jaquez averaged 31.7 points per game as a senior and ended his high school career with 2,653 points – earning him first-team All-CIF Southern Section accolades every year.
Former Camarillo boy’s and girl’s basketball coach Michaeltore Smith said Jaquez knew his position as a high school standout would come with the responsibility of representing his school and cultural community on and off the court.
“A lot of it came from his family,” Smith said. “I think that’s one of the things that (was) impressed onto him – representing his community and culture. And we tried to support that as a staff, just trying to bring diversity.”
Smith – who is one of the few African American teachers currently teaching at Camarillo High School – said the message of empowering minorities through basketball was especially pertinent to both him and Jaquez.
“I’m a minority myself,” Smith said. “And it was about having him understand our plight and our struggles and that we both represent our community and school – but we also represent where we came from. We kind of learned from each other.”
Upon graduation from Camarillo High School, Jaquez decided to expand his basketball horizons before arriving at UCLA by spending time with the Mexican National Team, traveling thousands of miles away from home over the summer. Jaquez said his decision to play for Mexico at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, served to connect him to his cultural roots through a new family.
There, Jaquez not only grew closer to his teammates who represented Mexico, but toward Latino culture as a whole in Latin America.
“Seeing the other countries was really amazing,” Jaquez said. “Seeing how proud everyone was to represent, how hard everyone was playing there. Everyone was taking it so seriously, but at the same time, everyone was talking and having a great time.”
And despite Team Mexico’s failure to medal last summer, Jaquez formed a relationship with Lorenzo Mata-Real, who was a Bruin himself from 2004-2008. During that four-year span, UCLA reached the Final Four three times.
Jaquez and Mata-Real’s shared experiences brought them closer together as they talked about the importance of serving as role models for Latinos in basketball – who, as of last season, make up less than 2% of Division I basketball players.
UCLA men’s hoops has also suffered from the lack of representation and hasn’t seen another Latino Bruin grace its court in over more than a decade since Mata-Real, something Jaquez said he’s looking to change with his work on the court of Pauley Pavilion.
“I want to see more Mexican kids going out and trying to play basketball and trying to do well,” Jaquez said. “And maybe get some more guys here. I feel like after this, there will be more Mexican basketball players that we are going to hear about, so hopefully inspiring the next generation is what I’m trying to do.”
And now with his inaugural season in Westwood coming to a close, Jaquez has found yet another family within his team.
The lone true freshman in coach Mick Cronin’s starting five has logged the most steals on Cronin’s defensive-minded squad, and Cronin said Jaquez’s effort and tenacity on the court has been a positive force for his team, even when the freshman’s shots don’t always go down.
“I think shooting comes and goes like your high school girlfriends,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to worry about effort, toughness and consistency, and (Jaquez) is A-plus in all those areas. I don’t know where we would be without him.”
With the Camarillo native regularly contributing over 25 minutes in the second half of UCLA’s season, Jaquez said he wants his early success in the program to serve as a model for other young Latino boys.
“If you put the time in, if you put the work in, you’ll get what you deserve,” Jaquez said. “And what you deserve is a shot at something like this – a shot to try and prove your worth here at UCLA.”
While it might seem that Jaquez is a singular player, tasked with the responsibility of representing an entire culture on UCLA’s biggest stage, he’s technically not alone in his journey.
Supporting him are all the people Jaquez considers his family – his past and present teams, his culture, his people. And it’s this intimate but far-reaching community Jaquez said he wants to make most proud.
So it wouldn’t be complete to say Jaquez is defined by family.
The concept could only be expressed by one word that’s integral to Jaquez’s roots.