Jaime Jaquez Jr. on Becoming the Breakout Rookie of This NBA Season

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

After four years, Jaime Jaquez Jr. graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in History—and Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Now, as a first-round draft pick with the Miami Heat, the 22-year-old is studying his NBA competition and taking his craft to another level.

Jaquez is just the sixth player with Mexican citizenship to reach the Association, and as the highest-selected Mexican American ever, he’s already exceeding every metric. Since 2003, only Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade has put up more points, rebounds and assists than Jaquez to start off their careers as South Beach ballers. Rarer for a rookie, Jaquez currently ranks in the NBA’s top five for most fourth-quarter minutes played—proof that he’s won the respect of head coach Erik Spoelstra in crucial moments. Jaquez’s late-game assertion quickly earned him the nickname Juan Wick—a reference to the stone cold fictional anti-hero—as well as Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors.

Ahead of an upcoming In-Season Tournament Game, and in between holiday obligations, we heard from Jaquez over the phone as he reflected on his Madison Square Garden debut, learning from his rookie mistakes and what it means to be a symbol for Latino fans in Florida and beyond.

I promise we won’t only talk about your family, but it’s well-documented that your parents and grandparents played basketball at the college level. What did that teach you from the jump, and how is that translating for you now?

Yeah, both of my parents played basketball at Concordia University, and that’s where they met. My dad has been extremely hands-on. He was my coach until high school and even though he wasn’t my coach during high school, we would wake up in the morning to go to 24 Hour Fitness to train. I still work out with him when I go home and we sometimes talk after games about what I can do better. He was a point guard when he played, so he’s very smart when it comes to understanding basketball.

You also have a younger sister, Gabriela, who currently plays at UCLA. Have you been able to give her any pointers?

We have a very similar game, honestly. I don’t get to see her play as much as I’d like because our schedules are always off. Last week, I was in New York and she was in the Cayman Islands [for the inaugural Women’s Cayman Islands Classic]. But we talk all the time throughout the week. Not just about basketball but our lives, since we’re really close. I actually just helped to set her up; she has a new apartment where my old apartment used to be [in Los Angeles] and where my buddies still live across the street.

Who are some players you’ve modeled your game after?

Kobe Bryant was the most influential. Growing up in L.A., he’s the guy I looked up to. Jimmy Butler is a guy I’ve always watched, too. D Wade as a shooting guard. Guys like that.

Kobe Bryant meant so much to everyone, but especially Southern Californians. What made him so magnetic to watch, and how has he shaped your approach to basketball?

I was a Laker fan growing up, so I was always inspired by his work ethic and attitude of not giving a fuck. Watching the games, my dad would always tell me how much Kobe worked. Waking up super early, getting to the gym before anyone. Prioritizing that. Having a competitive edge on your opponents. That mentally was the biggest influence.

Another player you mentioned is Jimmy Butler. He’s now your teammate, along with a locker room full of vets. How does playing with someone like Jimmy empower you to be your best?

As a veteran guy, Jimmy’s been great. We’ve gotten dinner and spent some time in Los Angeles. He’s in my ear, giving me tips, telling me what I can do.

You also seem to be in Erik Spoelstra’s good graces.

He’s a great coach for a reason. I’ve been blessed with great coaches my whole life and this is no different. He knows what he’s doing. Just helping me get better and allowing me to be able to play my game and be in great situations. He’s honestly taught me how to trust in my game more by giving me the opportunity, and that’s all you can ask for.

As a teenager, you played for Mexico’s national team as a Mexican-American dual citizen. You’re quickly becoming a symbol for fans on both sides of the border who aren’t often represented in the NBA. How’s that been?

It’s a crazy feeling to hear it from other people. I live my everyday life and am a regular person. I’m not different. But I understand that when it comes to the bigger picture, it’s what I’m representing. That feels good. I try not to think about it too much, though. I’m proud and happy to represent something bigger than myself, but I’m just a person doing what I love, and I’m glad other people see that as inspiring.

What’s the scholarship you’re helping to launch at UCLA about?

The Jaquez Family Scholarship is to help Hispanic students who might not have funding [to attend UCLA]. It’s through the Latino Alumni Association.

That’s real. You also like to have fun. I remember seeing a photo of you celebrating with Peso Pluma after you were drafted. He’s currently the most streamed artist in Mexico. How did you meet? And do you know if he’s a hoop head like Bad Bunny is?

I’m a big fan of [Peso Pluma]. Love his music. It was kind of a random occurrence. We met once, and had a great interaction. I honestly don’t know if he watches basketball like that, but yeah, that’s my guy. He’s from the same place my family is from [Jalisco, Mexico].

Once Peso Pluma or Bad Bunny name-drops you in a future track, that’ll be the new anthem at Latino house parties all over.

I can retire if that happens.

Off the court, you seem to have a chill style. Long surfer hair, a bandana, a baggy tee. How would you describe your fashion choices?

A lot of people say they can tell I’m from SoCal. I like to dress comfortably. But I can dress nice, too. My outfits are like a puzzle with lots of pieces and it’s just fun for me. I used to go to this spot on Melrose all the time, a thrift store with higher end stuff. Damn, I used to shop at Ross all the time. Going in high school to pick out my outfits. I’m serious. But yeah, Pirate, I really be wearing Pirate a lot. Golden Goose. I’m a big Jordan guy. I Love Ugly. David Yurman. Off-White. I’m getting slept on by LeagueFits.

You recently signed with Jordan Brand. That must be a childhood dream come true. What do you have going on with them?

It’s been tremendous. I got to go out to Puerto Rico [for the Jordan Brand Summit] with other athletes to talk about the brand’s direction and things like that. We’re working on some things that you’ll see soon.

Any plans to customize your kicks? Did you see when Juan Toscano put the Mexican flag on his Kobe’s during the Dunk Contest in 2022? Those would sell like crazy.

As far as the PEs, I can’t do that. But some people do custom kicks. It’s not something I think about honestly. I just put my shoes on and play.

What are your thoughts on the In-Season Tournament?

Anything new is always kind of like, do we like it? But this is something I think people will end up loving. As players, the guys want to win. It’s extra money, especially for guys on two-way contracts. It puts them in a better situation financially. Everything that is new and changing isn't always well received at first. We’ll see how it all goes, but I think it’ll be fun at the championship game in Vegas.

What about the courts? When they were first revealed, they got a lot of shit from fans online. Are you in favor of colorful court designs? Against it? Indifferent?

Honestly, when you’re playing, you forget about it. But some courts are a lot better than others. I’ll say that. The Heat Culture one was cool. The all-red court though, I don’t know. I’m down with change and making the courts cool. But there’s a difference between looking good and being too different. It's a fine line.

Former players Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson always ask their podcast guests about the first time they had their ass busted in the league. Was Jalen Brunson’s crossover stepback at Madison Square Garden your welcome to the NBA moment?

Before that, in Chicago, I had a moment. We had a game there, our first game against them, and we lost. DeMar [DeRozan] hit a tough shot over me. Sealed the game on the road. When you’re guarding guys like that, it happens. They’re great players. You live and learn.

A reporter on ESPN’s telecast said that you rank in the top five for total minutes played in the 4th quarter in the NBA. What do you most like about finishing a game, as opposed to starting?

Being in crucial moments is what I most love about basketball. Being on the line. Needing a stop. A big bucket. Those pressure situations. Crowd is there. In those final moments, you see who people are. You trust the work you put in. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for you, but it’s the ultimate test. I love that. Finishing it out, being a part of that. As a competitor it’s what you really want. That challenge at the end of the wire. And winning.

For those who haven’t seen you in action yet, how would you define your style on the court?

I’m a guy who gets it done.

Originally Appeared on GQ