Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
University of New Mexico guard Jaedyn De La Cerda floats in the right corner with no player from Utah State guarding her. UNM guard Aisia Robertson throws a crisp pass to De La Cerda who catches the ball, and in one fluid motion, bends at the knees and pushes the ball up through her chest in front of her face and releases a shot that hits nothing but net for a three-pointer.
De La Cerda knows it’s nothing but money, as she turns and runs downcourt holding up both hands with the OK signs, indicating three points. De La Cerda would go on to score 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three-point land and help the Lady Lobos stay in second place in the Mountain West Conference, with a (21-4, and 11-3 Mountain West) record as they defeated Utah State, 74-56.
“Jaedyn and A.T. (Anderson) can clearly score whey they get minutes,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said. “The reason they’re getting minutes is because they’re playing well defensively now. A.T. has been playing really well for several weeks, and Jaedyn played great defense and gave us a spark tonight.”
This season has been a breakout year of sorts for the former Gatorade Player of the Year. Last year, De La Cerda played in 13 games as a freshman. But it was strange because for once she wasn’t the best player on the court or the quickest. It took a full year to understand how to play at the Division I level. For her, the game was much faster than she had anticipated in making the jump from Roswell High School basketball to Division I.
“Sometimes my warmups are really good,” De La Cerda said. “I just feel my shot will go in. Tonight was one of those nights — it felt really good.”
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Last year was a year of adjustment for her — it took her a while to learn coach Bradbury’s system. It also took her time to learn how to play against guards quicker than her, which led to some frustration. She has learned to defend the ball and square up, and give quicker players enough space and to force them into the middle where help is.
“I’m never going to quit,” De La Cerda said. “I always knew that I could play at this level. I figured, he (Bradbury) recruited me for a reason and that’s why I’m still here.”
De La Cerda stayed at school this summer, worked out and worked on her quickness. She also lost weight in order to get quicker, while paying attention to her nutrition. She also hit the weight room and played basketball four times a week during the summer.
De La Cerda’s game has taken off because of her hard work and the support system she has around her. She constantly talks to her parents, Willie and Tara De La Cerda, and her brother Deyton. This summer when she did come home, they would all go to the park and play basketball as a family. The family might play one-on-one, or play pickup games at the gym. For Jaedyn, it is more about the reassurance her family gives her and their belief in her.
“We encourage her,” father, Willie De La Cerda said. “She’s good at basketball and we tell her to keep working hard at it, and it will take her places. She was pretty down last year, but I told her to keep practicing and coach Bradbury will notice the hard work you’ve put in.”
Her biggest supporter has been her former basketball coach at Roswell — Joe Carpenter. He checks on her and tries to lift her confidence up when he senses she is down. Carpenter feels like she cannot only play at UNM but dominate and have the same success she had at Roswell. He realizes it might look different on defense for her, but he believes she is a smart enough player to make up for her lack of quickness.
“I told her,” Joe Carpenter said, “look, I’ve been coaching 20-plus years and you are the best shooter I have ever coached. You can’t go into any game thinking any differently. I’ve coached a ton of players and I’m telling you — you are the very best shooter I’ve ever had. You’re the best shooter at UNM whether anyone wants to believe it or not, and you just have to believe in yourself. I wholeheartedly believe in that kid and I know she can fill it up.”
Carpenter feels like he’s almost like De La Cerda’s basketball dad, and he wants her to do well. He feels like the game is going to slow down for her the more she plays. Carpenter thinks the game will slow down even more for De La Cerda in the next year as she gets more comfortable playing and goes through another offseason of conditioning and playing.
“I’ve won it all with her,” Carpenter said. “I believe in her and I told her she has to believe in herself. Bradbury knew she could shoot it, and he got to see her play her senior year, so Bradbury knew the potential of her and what she could do. She’s undersized and not as athletic as everyone else, but she’s got skills, ability and competitiveness and she’s a winner, and that tells you all need to know about that kid.”
De La Cerda’s season has seen its up and downs — she started the first four games of the year and then was benched. Coach Bradbury has used her off the bench for most of the season. Carpenter told Da La Cerda she believed in UNM since she wanted to go there. Carpenter has seen the extra work De La Cerda has put in to be able to play at that level. He knows that De La Cerda is all in and it is starting to pay off for her.
Things began to turn around this season for De La Cerda when she had a career-high 21 points against nemesis New Mexico State. She scored 14 of her points coming in the second half. One of the best improvements De La Cerda has made is adjusting her offensive game to that of UNM.
“I told her to keep your head up,” Willie De La Cerda said. “I told her that her time is coming, just wait for it and be ready.”
In high school, De La Cerda could shoot the ball 25 times — now she has to pick her spots. When she is open, she can knock down the open shot, and if she gets an opponent on her hip, she can make them look foolish by hitting a runner on them — De La Cerda is coming into her own as a scorer.
“Jaedyn has put the work in since last spring in improving her game,” Bradbury said. “The gains she’s made have been tremendous. I’m excited to see all the success she has the rest of her career.”
Jaedyn De La Cerda has shown that she can play at the Division I level, and with her work ethic and can-do attitude, she has become a force on the UNM team. Jaedyn De La Cerda has shown it’s not only about getting the dream but working hard to keep the dream.
UNM will host San Jose State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Pit.