Latinos across the country have long embraced basketball fandom, yet producing a star in the game from the community hasn't always followed the fervor.
Last season, according to the NCAA, less than 2 percent of NCAA Division I basketball players (94 out of 5484) were Hispanic, despite an overall population percentage of around 18 percent in the nation.
One 16 year old who might grow into a top Hispanic player is shooting hoops in a gym with no working air conditioner, in a town most Americans have never heard of and will probably never visit. College scouts, though, make the trek to Camarillo, California, to see Jaime Jaquez Jr., a six foot, six inch tall small forward or shooting guard.
Camarillo is a small city in Ventura County, located north of Los Angeles and south of Santa Barbara -- both locales far more famous. Jaquez's roots in both basketball and Camarillo go deep. His grandfather, Zeke Jaquez, whose Mexican heritage came from family near Guadalajara, grew up in the area, playing both baseball and basketball and eventually coaching his sons in their youth clubs.
"He has great size, but he has a guard's skill. He has the ability to handle the ball and pass the ball as well as shoot the ball."Jaime Jaquez's high school coach, Michaeltore Smith
Jaime Jaquez Sr. recalled his own days as one of the few Hispanic basketball players in the area.
"Playing basketball in Ventura County, at Moorpark College -- there's not very many Latino basketball players," Jaquez Sr. said. "The first time I saw a lot was when we played East L.A. College, and I thought, 'Hey look, I’m not the only one.' That felt kind of good."
After transferring to Concordia College in Irvine to play there, Jaquez Sr. experienced another twist of fate via basketball.
"We came in to practice and there was the girls' basketball team," Jaquez Sr. explained. "I met my wife on the basketball court."
Angela Jaquez (then Angela Sather) averaged over 21 points a game at Concordia, leading her squad to the NAIA tournament her senior year.
"She played power forward," said Jaquez Sr. "She was a superstar."
Once the couple married, their child was destined, perhaps, to love basketball. Still, Jaquez Sr. made sure to put a variety of ball toys for different sports inside his son's crib.
It appeared to have an influence on the baby. Jaime Jr.'s first word, according to family lore, was "ball."
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The boy's first sport was actually soccer. Jaquez then transitioned to another traditional Latino sport, baseball. He never considered either a waste of time.
"Soccer helped my conditioning," Jaquez, now a junior in high school, said. "Baseball helped me with my hand-eye coordination. In basketball, you need both."
Both of his parents held off on teaching Jaime Jr. basketball, the game which had brought them together, until Jaime Jr. reached second grade. Even after teaching his son the basics, Jaime Sr. tried not to force his son into any particular position on the court. Instead, he taught him how to play all of them.
"My son is very good at handling the ball," Jaime Sr. explained. "He works really hard at what he does."
"I was impressed with his skill set at such a young age," said Camarillo boys' basketball coach Michaeltore Smith, speaking on watching Jaquez Jr. play for the first time as a freshman. "He was really advanced."
Though Camarillo had a losing season the year before Jaquez arrived on the team, in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the team played to a winning record. Jaquez averaged a double-double in points and rebounds each season. This school year, he is the team captain. The season begins in late November.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. EYBL video highlights. The most complete competitor on the wing in the 2019 class!
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Others have also noticed his skills. Jaquez has been invited, for three years running, to USA Basketball's Junior National Team camp.
"His versatility is what sets him apart," Smith praised. "He can play all positions for us."
It's such a unique feature of Jaquez's play, he is hard-pressed to find a comparable example of his playing style in today's NBA.
"He has great size, but he has a guard's skill," said Smith. "He has the ability to handle the ball and pass the ball as well as shoot the ball."
The player whose mentality has influenced Jaquez most is former Laker Kobe Bryant. Bryant is African-American, married to a Mexican-American and speaks passable Spanish.
"He is my favorite player," Jaquez said. "His competitive nature is something I really admire and try to emulate."
Jaquez, who occasionally visits family in Mexico, is also improving his language skills, practicing Spanish in addition to his high school classes in the subject.
Camarillo High School's most recent demographic study, in 2014, measured Hispanic students as 38 percent of the student body. With his success in basketball, Jaquez is something of a local hero.
"Adults come up," Smith said of reaction to Jaquez at games. "He and his family have made it a point to make their mark here."
The junior homecoming king at Camarillo passed up previous chances to move to expensive private schools which offered basketball aid and entrance. Instead, he plays for the same team his father once did. With numerous college offers coming in, Jaquez is still deciding where to play next, but his passage to the university level of the game is almost assured.
At games or at basketball camps for younger players, Jaquez talks with Hispanic fans of all ages who come to see him play.
"They're proud of me, just to see another Latino doing well in a sport not a lot of Latinos play."
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