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2022 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day

Wednesday, Oct. 26 | #Pac12MBB
TV: Pac-12 Network & Pac-12 Now

UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. in line to become next Mexican-American to reach NBA

Nov 2, 2022
Photo courtesy UCLA Athletics

Basketball’s popularity has soared worldwide over the last decade or so, and the game’s international appeal was apparent at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. Eight of the 24 players representing their schools at the Pac-12 Networks studios in San Francisco were born outside of the United States.

Closer to the States, basketball is also making inroads in Mexico, a nation largely known for its zest for soccer. The NBA is heavily investing in the country as well, setting up its NBA Latin America Academy in Mexico (an academy that helped produced former Arizona star Bennedict Mathurin) and even placing a G League team in Mexico City.

A key next step would be to get more players of Mexican descent into the NBA. Juan Toscano-Anderson of the Los Angeles Lakers is the only player of Mexican descent playing in the NBA, and he is also the only Mexican-American player to win an NBA championship. Only five players of Mexican descent have made the NBA, including former California Golden Bear and Pac-12 Player of the Year Jorge Gutierrez.

The sixth player of Mexican descent to make the NBA could very well be coming from the Pac-12 in UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr., a California native whose family is from Guadalajara.

“I think that would be a big stepping stone for people in my community, especially the Mexican community, to see a guy like me fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid, and just to inspire that next generation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that want to fulfill their passion, whether it be basketball or anything else,” Jaquez said at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. “Just to be that beacon to say that 'yeah, you can do it.'”

A two-time all-Pac-12 performer and two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive honoree, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Jaquez has the resume, two-way viability and body that makes him a bona fide NBA prospect and likely NBA Draft pick. NBA mock draft website has Jaquez currently slated as a second-round pick.

“He could have made it [to the NBA] this year. He could be playing right now,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said. “He’s going to play his position, which will be multiple positions. That’s what the league is all about now... He’s going to help a team win right away because he’s made UCLA win for three years, and he’s going to have the experience to do that.”

People in Mexico are taking notice, too. After scoring 17 points to help lead UCLA to an upset of second-seeded Alabama in the 2021 Sweet 16, including hitting a heavily contested 3-pointer that helped provide the Bruins a cushion late in OT, a headline in a Guadalajara newspaper read “Jaquez es héroe” (Jaquez is a hero).

Headlines like that, along with investments from the NBA into developing basketball in Latin America, Jaquez hopes, will help elevate the popularity of the sport in Mexico.

“The NBA has done a terrific job of expanding the game and introducing it to all parts of the world and Mexico is just another piece of the puzzle,” Jaquez said. “It’s a great opportunity to spread the game and show kids that soccer is not the only thing out there. Everyone loves soccer down there and rightfully so, but basketball is another terrific game we’d love to share with them and hopefully they accept it.”

With a G League team already in Mexico City, perhaps an NBA team could be in the country’s future? Commissioner Adam Silver has been consistent about expansion not being on the NBA’s immediate horizon, but Jaquez would be more than happy to eventually see a team there.

“To be able to have a team down there would be really revolutionary, turn it into a really global game,” Jaquez said. “They already got a team in Toronto. It’d only be right for them to have a team in Mexico as well. The three countries that make up North America to just be united in that way would be something that would be really cool.”

Internationally, the Mexican National Team has been able to rack up wins in recent years against USA teams in FIBA Qualifying windows. While the USA rosters didn’t have players currently on NBA contracts, they still had plenty of high-level G League and overseas players, and one such win led Toscano-Anderson to believe he had a shot to play in the G League, which eventually led to an NBA contract (he had spent his pro career largely in Mexico at the time). 

Jaquez had the opportunity to play for the Mexican National Team at the 2019 Pan American Games and while the timing hasn't worked out more recently, Jaquez would like to play for the Mexican National Team again.

“When the timing is right, it’s definitely something I’m definitely looking forward to,” Jaquez said.

While Jaquez could be the next great Mexican-American basketball star, the one after him might also be on UCLA’s campus. Gabriela Jaquez, Jaime’s younger sister, is an incoming freshman on the UCLA women’s basketball team who was the No. 19 recruit in the class of 2022.

“She’s doing a great job,” Jaime said of Gabriela. “It’s a pleasure to have her on campus. I’m just excited that she’s there.”