One could easily describe Jaedyn De La Cerda as the UNM women’s basketball team’s smiling assassin.
The junior guard from Roswell rarely hesitates to shoot – including from long range – and no Lobo wears a wide grin more often.
What exactly is De La Cerda smiling about?
“I don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “I guess I just love playing basketball, especially here in my home state. I smile when I’m having fun.”
De La Cerda and her teammates figure to be upbeat Tuesday night when UC Riverside visits Dreamstyle Arena for the 20119-20 season opener. Coming off a 24-7 campaign and recently picked to finish second in the Mountain West, the Lobos are awash in high expectations.
That includes De La Cerda, who led UNM in scoring during exhibition play, averaging 16.5 points in two games. She typically was the first guard off Bradbury’s bench last season and could fill that sixth-player role again, though starting is also a distinct possibility.
“I like bringing her off the bench,” Bradbury said, “because she gives us a spark and she can bring instant offense. But Jaedyn’s started some games for us, too, and I have no problem starting her. Either way, she’ll have a big role this season.”
Finding her way
Such was not always the case for De La Cerda, who was the first player to commit to UNM after Bradbury’s hiring in 2016. Despite a superb career at Roswell High, which included Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year honors her senior year, De La Cerda rarely got off the bench during the first half of her first collegiate season.
It led to a fateful meeting with UNM assistant coach Bill Ferrara – one that did not include smiles.
“She came into my office in tears,” Ferrara recalled. “It was over Christmas and she asked about meeting with (Bradbury) to talk about transferring. Jaedyn wasn’t playing then, but I told her she wasn’t allowed to talk to Mike until she really worked on her game. It turned out that was the challenge she needed.”
Ferrara agreed to work with De La Cerda after every practice, drilling her on fundamentals with seemingly endless shot repetitions. He regularly changed the workouts to keep things interesting, but De La Cerda was hooked.
“It made me better,” she said. “I noticed that right away. Every day Bill switches things up: sometimes I shoot 100 3’s, sometimes it’s pull-up jumpers, sometimes I drive it. We practice every shot I might take in a game.”
The extra work did not go unnoticed. De La Cerda’s playing time increased slightly late in her freshman season, and she began seeking out extra drills and shooting sessions. She also accompanied then-teammate and accomplished shooter Tesha Buck for pregame work.
“Tesha was a player who’d be out there shooting two hours before every game,” Ferrara said. “Jaedyn watched what she did and now she’s that player – out shooting when there’s no one else in the gym – and doing a ton of extra drills. I’ve had to reach out to some of my coaching friends for ideas to keep her workouts fresh, too, because she wants to do it every day, even in the offseason.”
Even post-practice workouts, it seems, are fun for De La Cerda.
“I try not to miss a day,” she said, “unless I have a test.”
Reasons to smile
De La Cerda’s rise has been welcomed by UNM’s coaching staff. The only New Mexican currently on the roster, De La Cerda’s positive personality has made her remarkably popular among teammates and fans.
“Jaedyn’s one of those kids who loves basketball and loves life,” Bradbury said. “She’s a person you want to be around.”
As one might expect, De La Cerda is even more popular in Roswell, a point made clear to her during UNM’s recent summer basketball camps. A young fan from her home town made the trip north to Albuquerque for the camp and arrived hoping to meet the Lobos’ guard.
“Jaedyn came over to talk to her and it was so cool,” Ferrara said. “That girl was actually shaking, her parents teared up a little and, of course, Jaedyn was all smiles.”
The encounter made an impact on De La Cerda, too.
“It’s really cool to think a young kid from Roswell knows who I am,” she said. “It makes me want to try to be a positive example. I told her, ‘If I can do this, you can.'”
De La Cerda ranked among UNM’s leaders in made 3-pointers (40), assists (44) and steals (30) in 30 games last season. She hopes to build on those numbers, along with her average of 18.6 minutes played per game.
Work ethic won’t be a problem. Ferrara fully expects to see De La Cerda’s smiling face after every practice and even on off days.
“She doesn’t need me any more,” Ferrara said, “but Jaedyn likes to be creatively challenged. She needs a rabbit to chase.”