Column: It took time, but Gabriela Jaquez would not be denied a UCLA scholarship
For those who feel disappointed about a lack of college scholarship offers, Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo High is the perfect role model for what can happen in the offseason when a player works hard and continues to develop her skills.
In this day and age, when eighth-graders are receiving scholarship offers, Jaquez didn’t receive a women’s basketball scholarship offer from her dream school, UCLA, until July 16, 2021. That is considered very late in the basketball recruiting process and a remarkable achievement on her part.
“It’s a great story of how to hold on to your dreams,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “She had one Pac-12 offer going into her last summer and just worked and worked.”
On Tuesday, she was selected co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game after scoring 17 points for the West team.
“I’m thankful I was invited and was honored to be part of such great history,” Jaquez said. “I had so much fun. Before the game, I was, ‘I’m not going to do anything special. I’m just going to play my game. If I’m open, I’ll shoot it.’ My two threes were open shots. I ran the floor, hustled and got my rebounds.”
The rise of Jaquez is all about her commitment to improve. Yes, her brother, Jaime Jr., was a star men’s player for UCLA, but Close doesn’t just give out scholarships because of family connections.
“It has nothing to do with her brother,” Close said. “She earned it. She worked so hard to expand her skill set. She’s always been a great competitor and athlete. I’m so proud of her development and her courage to hold on to her dream to come to UCLA.”
Jaquez averaged 34.2 points and 15.7 rebounds this past season.
Close remembers attending a UCLA men’s basketball practice when Jaime Jr. was a freshman and coach Mick Cronin called her over to meet Jaquez’s parents. That’s when Jaime Sr. told Close, “You know I have a daughter who plays and would sure like to keep her in the UCLA family.”
“I hadn’t seen Jaime play or Gabriela play at that point,” Close said. “He said, ‘I really think you’re going to like her.’ Boy was he right. We’re getting a window into how good she’s going to become.”
Jaquez tells the story of how things changed. First she went from 5 feet 9 as a freshman to 6 feet as a junior. COVID-19 prevented coaches from coming to games in person, so the summer before her senior year was critical.
“I think I always knew I was capable of playing in the Pac-12 and going where I wanted to go,” she said. “I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen. I was always good but kept getting better. I hustled every play. I got rebounds. I did whatever I could for my team. They saw she got taller, she got stronger, she got better.”
Her three-point shooting was inconsistent through her junior year, so she went into the gym and worked on it. By the end of the summer, she was most valuable player of the nation’s most prestigious club tournament in South Carolina.
“I know it’s crazy it took UCLA so long to offer me and I’m co-MVP of the McDonald’s game,” she said. “It shows I am a good player and can play at that level. I’m still proving I’m not just Jaime’s sister. I can play basketball and hold my own. I just didn’t give up.”
UCLA’s women’s basketball team was watching the McDonald’s game from their plane seats during a flight to South Dakota to play in the WNIT semifinals. “The whole team was fired up,” Close said.
On Wednesday, Jaquez returned home from Chicago and immediately resumed playing for Camarillo’s softball team, where she’s the starting third baseman. That’s how the Jaquez family deals with sports — they love all of them. Jaime played baseball in high school and brother Marco is a football, basketball and baseball player.
In the end, having to work for her UCLA scholarship has made Jaquez a better player.
“It pushes me even harder,” she said. “It doesn’t leave me content and doesn’t leave me stagnant. I had to work harder than everyone else because no one saw me as a top player.”
They do now.
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