Erik Spoelstra credits Jaime Jaquez Jr. for his journey to the NBA: ‘He had a different kind of path that we respect’'
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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra discussed the fascinating nature of Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s path to the NBA since he was a four-year player at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Jaquez, who has immediately earned a major role in the Miami rotation in his rookie season, told Yahoo! Sports how playing four years in college helped mold him into the player he is today.

“It helped [playing all four years] just learning how to win, learning to play the right way,” Jaquez said. “Something I learned under coach [Mick] Cronin is the little games within the game and what it takes to win and knowing when to make the right play and things like that. That stuff really translates when you’re coming into an organization that’s looking to win right away.”

Spoelstra explained that there is a certain “grit” and knowledge that comes with being a four-year player in college.

“There were stages to his career at UCLA over four years,” Spoelstra said. “In this current NBA society, nobody really wants that. Right now, if you’re not a No. 1 option as a freshman and you’re a five-star recruit, you’re either transferring or you’re declaring. You’re not really developing any kind of grit or learning a role or embracing a role the way Jaime did. He had a different kind of path that we respect.”

Not always being the No. 1 option at UCLA may have helped Jaquez adjust to his role with the Heat playing alongside Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo. The rookie is averaging 13.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3 this season.

While Jaquez has been solid in his role, he’s also stepped up with Herro, Adebayo and Butler missing time at certain points.

On Christmas Day, Jaquez showed why he was a star at UCLA with a huge performance. The rookie scored a career-high 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field. He also added 10 rebounds, one assist and two steals in the team’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

In his final season at UCLA, Jaquez averaged 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. While his production hasn’t been quite that lofty in his first NBA season, he’s shown that he can tap into that side of his game when it is needed.

“I was just excited,” Jaquez said of the Christmas game. “My family got to come, it was a great atmosphere and my first Christmas Day game. I remember watching them a lot as a kid so to be able to play in a game like that is an honor.”

The No. 18 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Jaquez has been one of the more consistent performers in the latest rookie class.

The Heat and Spoelstra are hoping he can continue to be a valuable rotation piece for the team as it looks to get back to the NBA Finals this season.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.