Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
The steps get harder the higher you climb up the mountain in your dream. No one could have seen what was coming for University of New Mexico basketball sophomore Jaedyn De La Cerda. De La Cerda got the dream — a scholarship to play basketball at UNM. She couldn’t see that the next step in her dreams would be filled with doubt and humility, and leave her questioning herself, her talent, the dream, and the love for basketball.
It wasn’t this way nine months earlier, when she was queen of the baseball courts in New Mexico. De La Cerda was the LeBron James of female basketball in the state. She was used to winning — in her junior season she won a state title, beating Gallup, 59-41. Her senior season, she was the Gatorade Player of the Year for New Mexico.
No one told her that when she moved up to the top of the mountain, she would face players that are as talented as her — if not more talented — and as hungry as she was. Most of the players she would compete against were all-this and all-that in their high school careers, just like she was. And the ones that weren’t all-anything wanted to play on the big-time stage of Mountain West basketball.
During fall camp of her freshman year, De La Cerda believed she could play and she belonged with the girls on her team, and then reality set in when the season began. De La Cerda’s idea of where she was and her fit on the team didn’t fit with where UNM coach Mike Bradbury thought of her at the time.
“I wasn’t playing,” De La Cerda said. “I was so used to playing coming out of high school that it was getting to me and I hated being on the end of the bench. I told myself, God has a plan for me and that I’m here for a reason, so I’ve got to stick with it and I don’t like to quit. I never thought about quitting but sometimes I quit on myself and I doubted myself. I thought, maybe I’m not fit for this.”
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One of the things De La Cerda didn’t realize going into Division I basketball was that her foot speed would be a problem. During fall camp she knew it was difficult to stay with quicker guards. This offseason she dedicated herself to the weight room and work on her lateral quickness. One of the main differences in playing high school and Division I basketball was the speed of the game. Now in college, some guards would blow by her with their first step and on the second dribble, be past her.
“I have struggled with my quickness,” De La Cerda said. “I have gotten quicker and stronger from being in the weight room since the season ended. I learned to be smart about defense, especially if I’m not as fast or quick. The player I’m looking to replace is Tesha Buck. During my freshman year I watched her and how she played — that’s the role I want to take over and be our three-point shooter.”
In the middle of the season after not playing as much as she thought she should have, she got down on herself. She felt that something was wrong with her game and wondered where she fit in on the team. De La Cerda, for a minute, didn’t know if she could play at the Division l level.
“Freshmen always have a hard time playing,” Former Roswell coach Joe Carpenter said. “I’ve always believed in the kid (De La Cerda) and that she is one of the top shooters in the country. I treat her like she’s my own daughter. I’m so proud of her, she’s living her dream. She’s always wanted to be a Lobo and I told her to give it one last try and to give it everything she has.
“I absolutely think she can play at that level. She (De La Cerda) is going to see that one year in that system is going to do wonders for her play and confidence.”
Not going to quit
After the season, De La Cerda heard the rumors, people saying she had quit. What people don’t realize is how hard it is when you’re at the top level of competition. And what it took for her to get to that level. A lot of people didn’t want to give her credit for making it to that top level to begin with.
De La Cerda did some soul searching when the season ended and was determined not to let her parents, family or Roswell down, but most importantly herself. De La Cerda could live with the fact that she might not be good enough to play at that level, but she also felt there was an adjustment period from her freshman to sophomore year. She was so mad that she wasn’t on the court as much as she wanted to be that she’s gone to the gym every day this summer in hopes of getting better.
“My game is getting better,” De La Cerda said. “I’m getting a lot better at shooting and coming off screens. That’s what I want to work on the most, getting open and finding ways to score while shooting three’s.”
De La Cerda has spent the summer in Albuquerque going through workouts in the mornings, hitting the weights, and doing conditioning drills, for speed and quickness. She will play pickup basketball at 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. At night, on off-days, she will go to the gym and get her own workout in. She feels like there is someone that wants her position so she has to work harder to stay ahead of the pack.
“I’m definitely committed,” De La Cerda said. “I’m 110 percent committed.” Bradbury has told her to keep working hard and she will get more playing time if she gets quicker and her defense gets better, which is up to her.
De La Cerda has been all-in with her desire to play significant minutes in the fall. For her it’s not enough to try to live her dream and be on the team. De La Cerda wants to be an integral part of the Lobos and play key minutes and hit big shots when the games are on the line.
She has changed her eating habits in order to get quicker, she has lost weight to get lighter on her feet. De La Cerda knows she has to play smarter on defense when she is guarding a quicker opponent. To do that she will give more cushion and rely on help and try to improve her lateral quickness and force her opponent to go middle more.
“I know that I can play at this level,” De La Cerda said, “and that’s why they recruited me.”
She has already seen the incoming class of freshmen and junior college recruits (her competition) and knows they’re good. No matter what, De La Cerda feels good about being there and knows that coach Bradbury renewed her scholarship for a reason. She plans to see action at the point guard and the off-guard. The Lobos run a fast offense where she is required to run to the corner and spot up to hit the three-point jumper.
De La Cerda believes there’s competition in everything she does as a basketball player and that someone is always trying to take her position. She focuses on what she can do and believes that coach Bradbury recruited her for a reason — and that if she continues to focus on the things she can control, her hard work will take her where she wants to go.
“My AAU coach, Sanchez, and coach Carpenter,” De La Cerda said. “Coach Carp is always there for me. He told me Bradbury recruited me for a reason, ‘I know how you play and you can play at that level.’ I like calling Carp when I feel a little down.”
De La Cerda’s love for going against the best at the highest level has kept her going during a trying freshman year. “I love seeing the progress I’ve made,” she said. “I’ve gotten faster and quicker on defense. I love seeing that and that I’ve gotten better. I love seeing that. If I were to give advice to someone coming up to the Division I level, I’d say work hard continuously and never get down on yourself.”
De La Cerda is doing well in school and feels that she wants to major in psychology. He parents, Tara and Bill, continue to support her and believe in her talent and abilities.
“Work what you pray for,” De La Cerda said. “It just came to my mind one day. I don’t believe God is going to give you something just because you prayed for it. I believe God wants you to work for what you’re praying for and then He gives you what you deserve.”
“I just felt like people were talking bad about me,” De La Cerda said, “that people back in Roswell were saying I was a quitter and stuff like that.
“I don’t want that on my name. Especially with my brother (Deyton) and how he played at Eastern New Mexico University, he never quit. He pushed through everything. I really look up to him (Deyton) for all that basketball stuff.”
De La Cerda will be home at the end of July for a family vacation. If she doesn’t make it at her dream school, it will not be because she didn’t work hard enough, or want it bad enough. De La Cerda has given everything she has to make sure her dream has a happy ending. In five months, she will find out if it was worth it.