UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. drafted No. 18 by Miami Heat in ‘surreal’ moment

Jaime Jaquez Jr. greets NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. greets NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected 18th overall by the Miami Heat during the NBA draft on Thursday in New York.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

After breaking into an amused smile at hearing his name called, indulging a round of family hugs and fitting the hat of his new NBA team snugly onto his head, Jaime Jaquez Jr. took that same hat off and stared at it like he couldn’t believe it was real.

Barely a top-100 prospect out of Camarillo High, he had stayed at UCLA for what felt like a basketball lifetime, rising from bit player to Pac-12 player of the year over the last four years.

The payoff for that perseverance came Thursday night inside the Barclays Center. Jaquez was not just an NBA player but nearly a lottery pick, the Miami Heat having selected him No. 18 overall in the draft.


“Surreal,” Jaquez said on the ESPN broadcast. “Words can’t describe it right now.”

It was another triumph for a player who had been considered a fringe first-round pick after completing his college career as the No. 8 scorer in UCLA history. His stock soared in workouts with NBA teams who valued his savvy, relentlessness and consistency, not to mention his ability to score in a variety of ways and make winning plays.

Jaquez had initially expected to watch the draft in Southern California before earning a coveted invite to the green room inside the Barclays Center reserved for players widely expected to go in the first round. He wore a beige custom suit that he had picked after a haberdasher had presented a selection of fabrics and colors back home.

The 2023 NBA draft is underway at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The San Antonio Spurs selected Victor Wembanyama with No. 1 overall pick.

June 22, 2023

When his name was called, Jaquez smiled and rose to hug every member of a basketball-crazed family that’s been playing the sport for three generations. First he embraced his mother, Angela, the two gently rocking back and forth. Next came his father, Jaime, who delivered pats on the back to his namesake son. Little brother Marcos then grabbed his sibling tight and lifted him off the floor before Jaime hugged sister Gabriela, who will continue to uphold the UCLA family legacy next season as a sophomore on the women’s basketball team.

On a night when two other Bruins were drafted — freshman guard Amari Bailey going in the second round to Charlotte with the No. 41 selection and junior guard Jaylen Clark going to Minnesota with the No. 53 pick — Jaquez stood alone as the only player from the Pac-12 taken in the first round.

He joins a franchise known for maximizing its roster while reaching the NBA Finals in two of the last four seasons. The Heat have paired stars Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo with far less heralded players such as Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson that have been developed into key parts of the rotation. The roster also features another former Bruin in veteran forward Kevin Love.

Having helped UCLA reach one Final Four and two additional trips to the Sweet 16, Jaquez said he understands what it takes to maintain a standard of excellence like the one established by the Heat.


“They have a culture,” Jaquez told reporters, “and when you’re a part of a culture or an organization with that high level of culture and just winning, it’s your job to sustain that and attain it and that’s what I’m looking forward to do, is to continue that legacy.”

Jaquez became the first UCLA senior to go in the first round since Darren Collison in 2009. That’s a welcome development for Bruins fans and coaches who want top players to stick around longer in Westwood than the time it takes to complete an eight-clap.

“The Jaime Jaquez story is what college basketball is all about,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “You’re talking about a young man who led his team for four years, went to the Final Four as a sophomore and won the Pac-12 regular-season title as a senior. He led his teams to a 9-3 record in the NCAA tournament and won an array of awards as a senior, including one national player of the year award. Plain and simple, Jaime is a winner.”

NBA draft story on UCLA star Jaime Jaquez Jr., possibly a late first-round to early second-round draft choice.

June 15, 2023

When he met with reporters, Jaquez said he savored the “incredible” opportunity to represent his Mexican-American heritage while also benefiting from his extensive experience. Having played in 134 college games could accelerate his ability to quickly earn meaningful minutes with the Heat, who are known for an intricate playbook.

“Any experience is good experience,” Jaquez said, “and I think I treat it as such and that’s what I tried to emphasize to these teams is I’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of games under my belt. ... As much as I’m experienced, I know in the NBA there’s a lot more to learn, so I’m very eager to soak it all in.”

Times staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.