Building a Legacy
By Joy Hong
UCLA student-athletes Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Rachel Garcia are following in the footsteps of some Bruin giants, particularly in the Hispanic community. Lorenzo Mata and Lisa Fernandez are not just role models to Jaquez and Garcia, they are mentors as well. Mata, who was a staple in the Bruins' frontcourt in Pauley Pavilion during the mid-2000s, has relished watching Jaquez become a key player on the current men's basketball team. Fernandez, UCLA Softball's assistant coach and a three-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time Honda Award winner, has coached 2021 Olympian Garcia to two Honda Award wins.
Men's Basketball – Jaquez/Mata
Jaime Jaquez Jr. first met Lorenzo Mata at the Mexican National Team tryouts in Mexico City.
The sophomore guard/forward said he spoke to Mata – a former center who played from 2004 to 2008 – over the phone prior to the tryouts and knew exactly what role he was fulfilling as an up-and-coming Mexican-American basketball player.
"I was hyped," Mata said. "I was so happy to meet him and that he was there because he wanted to represent Mexico."
Jaquez competed for the Mexican National Team at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru in the summer of 2019. Mata, who has been a mentor for Jaquez since that summer, also played for Mexico in 2013 and 2017 at the FIBA AmeriCup.
"(Mata) started talking to me about what it meant to be Mexican and to play basketball at such a high level," Jaquez said. "He basically told me that I had a big responsibility ahead of me to represent my culture and my people."
Jaquez averaged 8.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the Bruins during the 2019-20 season. The Camarillo native also earned honorable mention Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors.
Mata averaged 3.1 points and 3.5 rebounds his senior season and was a part of three consecutive NCAA Final Four teams through his final three years (2006, 2007, 2008).
"Whenever I had a home game, there's always one or two people that will come up to me and say 'Hey I'm from South Gate or Huntington Park' or even 'I don't even like basketball, but I'm just here because I'm supporting you as a Mexican,'" Mata said. "That's what it's all about for me."
Sharing both Hispanic roots and Bruin ties, Jaquez and Mata have forged a friendship. Mata said he recalls the two cracking jokes and continues to put forth the effort to check in with Jaquez, especially during the quarantine.
For Jaquez, he said he hopes to become that person for a younger player in the future.
"There's only a handful of Mexican guys that have played in the NBA," Jaquez said. "Right now, there's a lot of Mexican kids up and coming who are going to be really good one day, so I just hope they keep working hard and follow their dreams."
Softball – Garcia/Fernandez
Lisa Fernandez was constantly questioned, even after helping Team USA win a gold medal in 1996.
"I was 25 years old and my dad would meet some friends in L.A., who would always ask him why his daughter was still playing softball and that she should be married and having a family," Fernandez said.
The UCLA softball assistant coach and eventual three-time Olympic gold medalist recalled her father, Antonio Fernandez, asked to borrow her medal and signature bat and glove and took it to show his friends.
"This is why my daughter still plays," Antonio Fernandez said.
Antonio Fernandez came to the United States as a political refugee from Cuba, while Lisa's mother, Emilia Fernandez, is of Puerto Rican descent. Lisa Fernandez said she often juggles two hats both to represent the United States but also celebrating her roots.
"We've always been very patriotic in terms of what (Cuba) has been able to provide for him and then ultimately, what it was able to provide for our family," Fernandez said.
Redshirt senior pitcher Rachel Garcia said Fernandez has been a mentor to her since the first day she stepped foot onto campus. The two met when Garcia was 12 years old at a PFX Tour event in Palmdale before Garcia had even heard about UCLA's program. The duo then reconnected during Garcia's recruiting process before finally taking the ballfield together at Easton Stadium.
"I was super intimidated by her at first," Garcia said. "But as you get to know her, she's just that one person you can always go to when you're not having the best day or your best game or best practice, so she's just someone I've always looked up to."
Garcia, the two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and Honda Cup winner posted a 1.14 earned run average while hitting .343 with 57 runs batted in during her most recent NCAA Championship season with the Bruins in 2019. She redshirted in 2020 after being named to the United States Softball Olympic Team prior to the Tokyo 2020 Games' postponement.
As a Bruin, Fernandez dominated college softball, earning four first-team All-America honors and four Honda Awards, along with the 1993 Honda Cup. She led UCLA to two NCAA titles and compiled a 0.22 ERA while batting .381 with 128 RBIs before being inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.
"I embrace being a role model," Fernandez said. "To be able to go to an institution like UCLA that really indicates that you are one of the best in multiple facets, and to be a role model for girls that are Hispanic, I'm so thankful because there was a period of time when maybe it wasn't acceptable for Hispanic females to pursue athletic dreams."