UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr.: ‘We built something real special here’

Jaime Jaquez Jr. was walking to Pauley Pavilion for a game last month when he was stopped by a young woman wearing a UCLA sweatshirt who asked for a picture with the 6-foot-7 senior forward.

Jaquez obliged. He even waited an extra moment for her to decipher if the moment was better captured vertically or horizontally.

As he tends to do on the hardwood, Jaquez took control of the moment. With the longer reach, he decided to take her phone and take the selfie himself. She smiled, leaned into frame, posed, and Jaquez snapped the photo. He returned the phone and kept walking as she thanked him and wished him good luck.

It’s become a normal thing for the Camarillo native who is now Mr. Westwood.

“It’s definitely something I’ve had to get adjusted to,” Jaquez said. “When I was a freshman, nobody knew who I was. As a senior now, I can’t go anywhere without someone stopping to tell me something or wanting to take a selfie.”

“Just recently, one of my classmates asked to take a selfie with me after class. That was pretty funny,” he added.

Bruins in the wild: UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. makes a fan’s day by stopping to take a selfie on his way into Pauley Pavilion for today’s Pac-12 game against Washington State. Camarillo’s finest.

— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) February 4, 2023

Jaquez has shown why he’s worth bugging for a selfie this season, especially in the past month as UCLA went unbeaten in February and clinched the program’s first regular-season Pac-12 Conference title since 2013 with a win at Colorado on Sunday. He added more weight to his cause for the Pac-12 Player of the Year with 26 points in Thursday’s win over Arizona State, 19 of which came in the first half.

Despite the fandom, the star of Westwood remained humble when asked if the honor is something he’s eyeing, graciously keeping his team the focus after Thursday night’s win. Jaquez is averaging 17.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting just under 49% from the field this season.

Teammate Jaylen Clark wasn’t shy about the topic though.

“I know he’s not going to say it, but he deserves the damn award,” Clark said.

“He rebounds, he defends, people say he can’t stay in front of the ball, he challenges shots above the rim, he scores in three ways. I’ve guarded the best and he’s the hardest I’ve had to guard, by far, it’s not even close. If that’s what it’s based off, give him the award right now.”

Jaquez’ ascension from Camarillo to Westwood has been remarkable. His leadership under Cronin as the Bruins reclaim a top spot in college basketball has been storybook as the senior preps to play what’s likely his last game in Pauley Pavilion against No. 8 Arizona in a regular-season finale at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

“Jaime is a great talent,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “I told an NBA guy yesterday, ‘You want to win games, put Jaime on your team. He won’t be your best player, but your coach is going to love him, his teammates are going to love him.’”

Jaquez is loved already, and maybe that’s why he’s not sure how he’s going to handle what is likely to be an emotional game Saturday.

“I’m not going to lie, I don’t know,” said Jaquez of how to approach his final home game. “High school senior night is one thing; I think this is going to be a whole other thing. We’re going to try and have as much fun as we can. … We’ve built something real special here. Tyger and I came in as freshmen. Our journey here as had so many ups and downs. We started with nobody coming to our games, nobody even wanting to. Now, we’re selling out games against Cal … We’ve come so far.”

Jaquez has scored 20 points 10 times this season, notched six double-doubles and ranks No. 19 on UCLA’s career scoring list and No. 17 in total rebounds, making him the 10th player in the school’s history to rank among the top 20 leaders in scoring and rebounding. Under Cronin’s tutelage, Jaquez has helped the Bruins go a combined 75-22 overall and 45-13 in Pac-12 play the last three seasons, with trips to the Final Four and Sweet 16 heading into this year’s final game.

“When you have a rare guy like Jaime Jaquez that values the college experience and wants to have a pro career, he doesn’t just want NBA socks. … players that get to the summer league, then play in the G-League, but you get the socks,” Cronin said.

UCLA appears to be a lock to be at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but will be undeniably No. 1 seed-worthy with a win over Arizona and/or a Pac-12 Tournament crown next weekend.

“There was a time when everyone was like Jaime,” Cronin said with a soft smile, almost as if he was reminiscing of better times. “Going to a prestigious university with a great basketball program was an honor. Everyone looked at it that way. Now, it’s a vehicle to get to the pros.”

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Jaquez has a few more accomplishments to check off his list, and not one of them is individually motivated.

“I have three awards on my checklist. I already got one, now I want two more,” said Jaquez, alluding to the Pac-12 tournament and a national championship.

That’s Mr. Westwood for you.

No. 8 Arizona at No. 4 UCLA

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pauley Pavilion


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