Our Latinx Athletes: Gabriela Jaquez

Visual Credit: Jacky Barragán

A McDonald’s All-American, a Nike EYBL Peach Jam champion, and now a Division 1 athlete at the number one public university in the nation, Gabriela Jaquez’s reputation precedes her as she enters the world of college basketball. 


The Camarillo native, who has been playing basketball since the third grade, joined the UCLA Women’s Basketball team this past fall.


As a freshman, Gabriela is still learning her way around and shares about the adjustment from high school to college. 


“I was really nervous coming in about the adjustment and what it would be like, luckily I came here during the summer, during C Session and it was a really good adjustment. I’m thankful that I came in with four other freshmen, the five of us, and so we all had each other to lean on.”


Gabriela adds that the upperclassmen on her team were also helpful with the transition process and being supportive, along with encouragement from the coaching staff. 


Like many applicants, UCLA was a dream school for Gabriela. However, it wasn’t always basketball that had her keeping an eye out for school. “It was always a dream of mine since I was younger to go to UCLA. It was a dream school and to get a scholarship at UCLA. I also played softball my whole life and in high school too. I used to say, ‘I want to play softball at UCLA!’ And then obviously when I got better at basketball and knew that I wanted to do that.” 


I’m not surprised that this talented player grew up a multi-sport athlete. Gabriela shares how she recognized that her goals were now becoming bigger, and therefore needed more commitment to her craft. 


“It obviously wasn’t easy, but I just knew that it was a bigger goal ahead. It wasn’t just me dribbling to get better that day, although, yes, but it was just like, ‘Get better so you can become great, so you can become a Bruin at UCLA.’ Those kinds of things I would just tell myself, and remind myself to do things because you know you won’t regret it and you want to work hard.”  


When reflecting on her athletic career before college, particularly in high school and AAU teams, Gabriela shares that her experiences are definitely what made her grow as a player and led her to her present-day reality, an athlete at UCLA. 


“I’m very grateful for those times. My senior year, we made it to the CIF championship. Sadly, we lost. I was definitely heartbroken by that, but that doesn’t take away from all the fun times that I had and the memories I created with all my teammates and my coaches. I really enjoyed playing for them and playing with teammates because we just really had a lot of fun in my high school years. I made friendships that will last a lifetime and I’m just really thankful that I stayed home, in Camarillo, and played for my local high school because those are my best friends.”   


Gabriela adds that playing in AAU teams was also a factor in her success. 


“Playing in AAU, I started off in an independent team. We moved to Adidas, and then my last year playing I was on a Nike EYBL team. That was a dream of mine to play, and we won the Nike nationals, which was a dream come true. To win that with those groups of girls that are just so talented was really amazing because it got me better and it helped me get to where I am now at UCLA.” 


When asked about what she wanted to introduce to UCLA, Gabriela’s answer was one of both excitement and surprise. Talented players love to show off their skills on the court, and Gabriela is no different. However, it was interesting to learn about what she hopes to bring to UCLA basketball. Her answer: joy. 


“I think I really want to showcase the joy of being a Bruin because I take a lot of pride in being a Bruin. I think it’s the coolest thing in the world. Every time I walk around other sports or go to the other schools, I’m like, ‘I’m so glad I go to UCLA, like I’m so glad I got to UCLA.’ I would not want to go to any other school.”


Gabriela carries her Bruin pride proudly, expressing that she’s thankful when people show their support for the basketball team and does her best to share that same spirit with other athletic teams on campus. A teammate and supporter on and off the court, Gabriela’s joy shines through and reminds me of the ways I wanted to experience all the school events and games as a freshman. This isn’t the only instance that Gabriela carries her pride with her. 


I shared with Gabriela about all the media attention and comments from fellow Latino spectators and fans I found as I researched the presence and responses of Mexican basketball players in college basketball. We talked about the embrace of the support from social media and all the love/support/pride from the Latino fans. Gabriela expresses her gratitude for the endless support shown to her and her family on their UCLA journey. 


“I think being a Latino, the culture is like support, family, everything. They see this unique situation of me and my brother [Jaquez Jr.] both at one place, being Latinos. It sheds a lot of light on us and everyone is right there to support, it doesn’t matter how good you do that game or not. ‘You’re the best! You’re great!’ And I’m just like, ‘thank you!’” 


Within the Latino culture, we talked about our favorite home-cooked meals. Gabriela’s favorite, like many of us, is “anything my grandma makes, her food is the best!”


In her own large family, Gabriela expresses how thankful she is. Even when they can’t all show up to a game, there is always someone in the crowd cheering her on. Whether it’s her cousins, grandma, or even her own siblings, the Jaquez family is there. 


“My family is the best at coming to my games. Between my games, both my brothers’ games, my cousins’ games, there’s always someone there. The thing about my family is that, if my parents can’t come to my game, then my grandparents are there, my cousins are there, and there is always someone at all my games.”


Many athletes attribute their jersey number to an often-sentimental reason, or even a childhood memory. For Gabriela, the number twenty-three fell into her lap and just so happens to be the same number her mother and her aunt wore in college. 


“Well honestly, my number is eleven, that’s my favorite number. I’ve been eleven my whole life. Obviously, it was already taken by my friend, Emily, but I picked this number because I was like, ‘Alright I don’t know what to be, I’ve never been anything other than eleven.’ It was like an identity crisis, like, what is going on? My favorite number is eleven because my aunt was eleven. And like, I had to pick a number, and my mom was like, ‘Well your Tía Carmen was eleven,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll be eleven.’ And I just loved that.” 


Although Gabriela claims her true number was eleven, she embraces her new number and, coincidentally, is just one below her older brother’s jersey number, twenty-four. 


“I picked twenty-three, and I was like, you know, it’s a good basketball number. I go to a Jordan school, Michael Jordan was twenty-three, and my mom was also twenty-three in college.” 


Even when looking alongside or up to other athletes, family is always present for Gabriela. When asked about an athlete she looks up to, without hesitation, Gabriela names her older brother, former UCLA basketball player, Jaime Jaquez Jr. She mentions:


“I think I just look up to my brother a lot, my older brother, honestly, just because I see how he is as a person too. He still has fun and he puts so much time into basketball, that’s why he’s so good. And I see that, but I also see you can do other things than just play basketball. Let’s have fun with your college experience and just enjoy, and that’s just what I’m trying to do.”


Ultimately, it’s Gabriela’s refreshing take on college basketball and her energy on and off the court that leads me to believe that this basketball star will not only make an impact on the court but introduce a whole new energy to what it means to play for UCLA. 


Here is some more Q&A from my interview with Gabriela:

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 


Earlier we discussed your numerous athletic accomplishments before attending UCLA. What do you think was a factor in achieving those accolades? 


“Being dedicated and working hard. I think my parents really pushed me to do that. I’m lucky enough to live right across the street from a park, and I would just go there every day and shoot.  I also saw how my older brother worked hard to get where he wanted to go. It also takes a lot of sacrifice, all those things that play into the role of wanting to be the best. Just staying on the path of working hard and knowing that there’s a bigger goal in mind really helped me.” 


You’re in a unique situation, you and your brother are playing at the same time. Is his influence or example something that you think about when you’re here? 


“I’m so happy that me and my brother got to play here at the same time, not only for everyone else but us, like we had a lot of fun. We hung out all the time and it was just amazing.

I think I’ll just want to continue what my brother left here, differently, though. Obviously different team, different reach. I think that I just want to show people that you can do what you put your mind to, honestly.”


How does it feel to represent a community?


“To know that I represent something more than myself, whether that is Latinas, or the 805, or Camarillo, seeing the support of those people from those communities really makes me want to work even harder. Because people will look at and me and say ‘She did it, you can do it,’ ‘She’s from Camarillo, you can do it,’ ‘She’s from the 805, you can do it,’ ‘She’s Latina, you can do it.’ And like, I know people, they’ll tell me that they’ll tell that to younger kids at school, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And so to represent something bigger than myself really just pushes me to go harder and motivates me, honestly, because I want to be the best for myself but also to know that people are supporting me in other ways, I’m just very grateful. It’s really an honor that people just support me and come to my games, cheer me on, or just read about me in the newspaper, anything. I’m just like, ‘Thank you so much.’”


Do you have any mantras, sayings, any words you like to live by?


“I don’t think I have a specific one, honestly. I think I just try to remind myself like, ‘It’s a game, have fun with it.’ I don’t have a saying, but like, if I’m tired in practice, I’ll be like, ‘I’m fast, I’m fast, I’m fast.’”


Any last comments?


“Support the womens’ sports, because it’s fun. We work just as hard as the men. We are division one athletes at the end of the day, and it doesn’t matter that we’re women or not, so I just hope that everyone can come together to support women in sports, UCLA women’s basketball team, and just all the sports on campus.”


There’s no doubt that this talented athlete will continue to be a tremendous addition to the world of college basketball. With the recent news that her older brother, Jaime Jaquez Jr, was selected by the Miami Heat organization during this year’s NBA Draft, I have high hopes that Gabriela will be well on her way to a successful career. In a few short months, Gabriela will take the court as the only Jaquez representing UCLA basketball, and I can’t wait to continue to see her dedication and true joy for her craft shine through—on and off the court. You can support the UCLA Women’s Basketball team when they return to the court for the 2023-24 season.

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