LOS ANGELES — Gabriela Jaquez‘s biggest fan entered Pauley Pavilion on a Saturday afternoon with a couple of his buddies. He wore ripped jeans and a flannel shirt, and plopped down in the front row as fans whispered to one another about him. But his focus was solely on the freshman forward on the floor for UCLA.
When Gabriela hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter, Jaime Jaquez Jr. — the UCLA men’s basketball star and her older brother — stood up, pumped his fist and high-fived his friends. But the Jaquez family’s only former McDonald’s All-American, and its most competitive member, didn’t seem to notice her brother’s reaction or that of her family sitting in the stands, and jumped back on defense.
Basketball highlights are the norm for the Jaquez family. Hours earlier, Jaime Jr. had scored in double figures, on the same court, also in front of his family.
The Bruins won, but Gabriela scored just the three points. After the game, she moved into the multitude of siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, aunts and uncles who awaited her in a corridor of Pauley Pavilion. Surrounded by her family, she embraced her father and put her head on his shoulder in comfort.
“We’re both competitive,” Jaime Jr. said to ESPN of his sister’s reaction to what she considered a disappointing performance, despite also picking up nine rebounds.
Gabriela added, “We’ll learn from it. A lot of us are rushing and want to make the extra pass, especially for me. It’s an adjustment from high school. In high school, I could do whatever I wanted. We’ll get there.”
The game capped a hectic weekend — three high school or college basketball events in 24 hours — for the family, who wear “Team Jaquez” shirts to games. But it’s a familiar grind. More than a dozen relatives travel back and forth between Pauley Pavilion and their hometown of Camarillo, California, 45 miles northwest of Westwood, in support of the talented siblings — including younger brother Marcos, a basketball player and budding football prospect at Camarillo High School.
College basketball history is filled with siblings who played the sport at an elite level. But Jaime Jr., Gabriela and Marcos represent the third generation of basketball players in their family. In a sport with limited Mexican representation — Juan Toscano-Anderson (Marquette), Jorge Gutierrez (Cal), Horacio Llamas (Grand Canyon) and Eduardo Najera (Oklahoma) are four of just five NBA players with Mexican heritage since 1946, while Evina Westbrook (UConn) became the WNBA’s first Mexican-American player when she was drafted by the Seattle Storm in 2022 — the Jaquez family’s legacy might be unprecedented. But it is their commitment to their bond and heritage that has allowed them to blossom on basketball courts throughout the West Coast for decades. The rise of Jaime Jr. and Gabriela is a testament to the support and love that surrounds them and the sacrifices made before they were born.
“When I was really young, I just thought everyone comes to your games and supports [you], but then as I got older, I realized that’s not the case for everybody,” Jaime Jr. said. “And I started to appreciate it a lot more.”
Ranch dressing, an old rim and a legacy born
At Toppers Pizza in Camarillo, members of the Jaquez family took up two large tables as they passed a collection of pizzas — creamy garlic chicken, chicken ranch dijon and hot honey — between them.
“You got to put ranch on this one,” Marcos advised, as he nibbled on a slice about an hour after his family had watched him play a basketball game.
Cousins, uncles, grandparents and other relatives all gathered on the Friday night, members of a family that roams the West Coast, and beyond, to watch Jaquez athletes compete in every sport from softball and volleyball to basketball, baseball and football. The goal is to make sure everyone who plays feels supported.
At the head of one of the tables sat Ezequiel and Gloria, Jaime Jr. and Gabriela’s grandparents.
Ezequiel’s parents didn’t know much about basketball after they emigrated from Mexico and moved to Oxnard, California, when their son was a child. But Ezequiel remembers convincing his father to build a rim for him and his brother, Dick, to practice with. Except, this was no usual rim; it was less than a foot wide, much smaller than the 18-inch width of a regulation-sized cylinder.
“By the time we got to a bigger rim, it was easy,” Ezequiel said.
In high school, he earned recognition in local newspapers as one of the first Mexican American players in the area to compete at an elite level. But he still laments the game’s old rules.
“If we would have had a 3-point line, I would have scored a lot more,” he quipped.
Ezequiel would go on to play basketball at Ventura Community College before transferring to Northern Arizona. He then became a local high school coach who helped Marion Jones, the former Olympic gold medalist and former North Carolina women’s basketball standout, develop her game.
Gloria is the matriarch who has helped the family remain tight. After arriving in America more than 50 years ago to visit her sister, she met Ezequiel. Once married, Gloria, who did not speak English then, created a thriving hair salon business in Camarillo. To this day, most of her children and grandchildren live in Camarillo.
Every Sunday, she cooks a large meal for her family, who pop in and out to say hello and eat. It’s more than a tradition; it’s a legacy Gabriela and Jaime Jr. have cherished.
“I am very proud of them,” Gloria said.
A few years ago, she returned to Mexico and held a massive reception for her family. She smiled when showing off the pictures of the gathering, particularly one: More than 100 members, including Jaime Jr., Gabriela and others from California, standing in front of a church she once attended as a youth.
The pride in those moments permeates the Jaquez family’s bond. It’s the foundation of their unity.
Jaime Sr. continued in his father’s footsteps, playing college basketball at Concordia University in Irvine, California, where he met Angel, his wife, who also played college basketball. As Jaime Jr. and Gabriela displayed early signs that they might have a future in basketball, Jaime Sr. coached his children at the AAU level but never accelerated their development. He wanted them to become versatile players but still have fun.
“I just wanted to make sure that they won first and I wanted them to go through the steps,” he said. “The whole community, because they have their friends, they played with them on our team. And our team, both of our teams, were really, really good.”
The new generation is taking off
All three Jaquez siblings recently recognized their Mexican heritage with a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal with Tricolor Holdings, a company in Dallas that helps Latino immigrants purchase and finance cars.
The deal is perhaps the biggest expression of the Jaquez’s legacy. Even bigger than Jaime Jr. playing for Mexico at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
“His Spanish got better,” Gloria joked.
A projected second-round pick in the 2023 NBA draft per ESPN, Jaime Jr. could become one of the few players with Mexican heritage to compete in the NBA.
But that’s not his focus. Rather, he wants his name in the UCLA rafters next to the greats, such as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He wants to be known as a Bruins legend first.
“I love representing a country and representing a culture of something bigger than myself as well,” he said. “But I also like to think I want to be remembered as a great basketball player, and not just a great Mexican basketball player. A lot of people get lost in that.
“We’re all just people at the end of the day. So whether I’m Mexican or not — and I love to embrace my culture and that’s who I am — I’m a person at the end of the day.”
Like most top prospects today, both Gabriela and Jaime Jr. had the opportunity to transfer to other high schools or prep programs. But their father had no interest in joining the nationwide trend whereby many top players leave their local schools in favor of private or prep schools. The two played all four years at Camarillo High School. Marcos is there now too.
“One of the things I thought about, I just had all my friends,” Jaime Jr. said. “I didn’t want to leave and go to a new school and meet a bunch of people. I love my friends. I just wanted to play with them and see what I could do. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. Obviously, [there was] representing my city, Camarillo, too, and I wanted to promote it in a positive way.”
Gabriela confesses she also picked UCLA because she wanted to stay close to those she loves. It helps that it was her dream school.
“I was in basketball camp in fourth grade and they just had us write down our goals,” she said. “It was basketball and life goals. And I said, ‘Get an offer from UCLA,’ ‘Get a scholarship,’ ‘Be nicer to my brothers’ and ‘Make a left-handed layup.’ Things like that. To look back and know I achieved those goals … still working on my brothers, right?”
Jaime Jr. and Gabriela still return to Camarillo during the season. Sometimes, they bring their friends and show them how to put ranch on their favorite pizza slices. The family visits help them recharge during a long and busy season.
But they’ll see them in between visits, too. Through group texts, it is collectively decided who will attend which game and when. There is a Jaquez family rule: no matter who plays, or where they play, a member of the family is in the stands. The weekly shuffle also comes with balancing the highs and lows competing inevitably brings — like celebrating Jaime Jr.’s excellent performance against Denver and consoling Gabriela hours later.
Despite the disappointing game, Gabriela is an improving young player who was recruited to become an anchor for the Bruins.
“Gabriela Jaquez is just all heart,” UCLA women’s coach Cori Close said. “She doesn’t just get the rebounds in her area; she gets the tough ones. She’s so blue-collar and willing to do whatever. I think she just has a winning attitude. She cares only about what it’s going to take for our team to win.”
Meanwhile, Jaime Jr. aims to lead UCLA to its first national championship since 1995. The projected All-American (17.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG) this season has already led the Bruins to the top of the Pac-12 and has them well-positioned to make up for the loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 a year ago.
“He’s become an elite scorer in college basketball,” UCLA men’s head coach Mick Cronin said. “When we need a bucket, it’s pretty simple where we go. Very few guys in college basketball can score without the offense. But he can do it.”
Gabriela, the co-MVP of last year’s McDonald’s All-American game, is averaging 6.7 PPG for the women’s squad, which is currently projected as a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament.
“I just told her there’s going to be highs, there’s going to be lows, but as long as you just persevere and understand this is all a part of your journey and take it as that, because I believe everything happens for a reason. … If it doesn’t, then what are we really here for?” Jaime Jr. said he tells his sister.
Gabriela adds, “I really don’t care if they see me as Jaime’s little sister. I am his little sister. I think it’s a really cool opportunity if we can capitalize on that. And it’s good for our family. It’s a really cool dynamic. But I don’t feel any pressure. I know I’m on my own path.”