UCLA brother and sister make March Madness a proud family moment

LOS ANGELES — Proud grandfather Ezequiel "Zeke" Jaquez Jr. will be tuning into the NCAA tournaments on Thursday and throughout the weekend from his home in Camarillo, California, to cheer not one, but two of his grandchildren.

Senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. will be leading the No. 2 seeded UCLA men’s team against their closest opponent, Gonzaga, No.3 seed, on Thursday in Las Vegas. His sister Gabriela, a freshman forward with the women’s team, will face a tough challenge up against No. 1 overall seed South Carolina this Saturday. If both teams win, they will head to NCAA’s Elite Eight round.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., who has just been declared Pac-12 player of the year, and Gabriela are the first brother and sister duo to make it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the same school in the same season.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. in a game against the University of Southern California. (Scott Chandler / UCLA Athletics)
Jaime Jaquez Jr. in a game against the University of Southern California. (Scott Chandler / UCLA Athletics)

This is Gabriela’s first tournament, and Jaime’s last after a college experience filled with wins.

“It has been tremendous. I am so proud of her and her hard work,” said Jaime Jaquez Jr. to the Pac-12 network when asked what it means to play the NCAA tournament with his sister.

Their grandfather is ready to watch — especially since he's also an expert on the sport.

“I’m excited and subdued," the 83-year-old former basketball coach and teacher told NBC News. "I like to watch the game very  quiet. I think about it as if I was in Jaimito’s shoes, ‘Ay Jaimito, you could’ve made that shot,” or think about the opportunity or tough spot the coach is in."

“I have a tremendous sense of pride and excitement. They are living what I wanted to do when I was at school,” he added.

In this Mexican American family, a love of the game

The Jaquez family has been playing college basketball for three generations. The journey started with grandfather Zeke, the son of  produce packers from Oxnard, California, who immigrated from Mexico. He was the first to receive a college scholarship through basketball, playing as a guard at Arizona State College, now known as Northern Arizona University, where he also received his teaching credentials.

The tradition was carried on by his son Jaime Jaquez Sr. — the siblings' dad — who also played college-level basketball at Concordia University, where his wife Angela played on the women’s basketball team.

“It opens your eyes to see there aren’t that many Mexican kids out there, it gives me an extra set of pride,” said the eldest Jaquez. “The wonderful thing is that maybe because of my experience, other people in my family, other kids thought to play basketball.”

A love of hoops — and teaching

UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr., or Jaimito as he is affectionately known in his family, has broken many records throughout his collegiate basketball career. He recently surpassed legendary UCLA Hall of Famer Bill Walton for 12th on the Bruins men’s basketball all-time scoring list.

“As a freshman you never know what to expect. If as a freshman you had told me that I would win the Pac-12 championship and that I’d win the Pac-12 player of the year, I don’t know if I’d believe you. It’s just been such a crazy ride so far, I am so grateful to be a part of this,” said Jaime Jaquez Jr. during a UCLA press event this month.

Gabriela Jaquez with her brother, Jaime Jaquez Jr. (Jan Kim Lim / UCLA Athletics)
Gabriela Jaquez with her brother, Jaime Jaquez Jr. (Jan Kim Lim / UCLA Athletics)

For the Jaquez family, however, it's not just about college basketball but also about education. The UCLA stars’ grandfather and granduncle were teachers; Jaime and Gabriela’s mother, Angela, is also a teacher.

Through basketball, the family has opened a pathway into higher education for themselves and also for others. This year, in conjunction with UCLA’s Latino Alumni Association, the Jaquez family is launching the Jaquez Family Scholarship Fund.

“It is wonderful as an educator. A source of pride and enjoyment that has come to our family because of Jaime and Gabriela,” said their grandfather about the scholarship. He recalls hosting what he called “Scholars Luncheons” for all his grandkids to encourage them to seek good grades in addition to good scores on the court.

Reflecting on the family’s journey through basketball and school, the eldest Jaquez said, “Our parents helped us, they would have to ring a bell for my brother and me to come inside, we were having fun, playing and getting better. Something that we enjoyed became something that got us through college.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com