Jaedyn De La Cerda has racked up some eye-popping numbers over five seasons with the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team.
Her dad has, too.
Midway through her super-senior season, De La Cerda stands 12th on the Lobos’ career scoring list with 1,149 points and fifth in program history with 165 made 3-pointers. Not bad for a 5-foot-6 guard from Roswell who scored just 23 points and made two 3-pointers as a freshman.
During the same time span, Willie De La Cerda has posted ridiculous numbers of his own. These appear on the odometer of his gray 2009 Ford Ranger.
Jaedyn’s 51-year-old father has made the lengthy, largely uninteresting drive from Roswell to Albuquerque for all but two of her home games with UNM. That’s 400 miles round trip, and Willie makes the journey back and forth on game days nearly every time.
His personal statistics?
“Well, my truck’s got over 161,000 miles on it now,” Willie said, “and it’s mostly all highway miles.”
Willie has taken in some road games along the way. He made last week’s Mountain West trek to Wyoming and Colorado State (more than 1,300 miles round trip) and regularly gases up the Ranger for Lobos games at New Mexico State or in West Texas.
“I like to go to as many as possible,” Willie said, “but I don’t like to fly. It’s been some long hours driving for sure, but to me it’s well worth it.”
As a matter of perspective, UNM has played 68 home games during Jaedyn’s career. Willie missed the Lobos’ two Pit appearances in 2020-21 (no fans allowed because of COVID-19 restrictions), but he attended their two “home” games against Fresno State in Canyon, Texas, that season.
Motivated as he is, Willie De La Cerda does not rank among UNM’s more boisterous fans. He habitually sits midway up the Pit’s south bleachers and takes in games while sporting a cherry jacket with “Lobos” emblazoned across the front.
Jaedyn laughed when asked if she could hear her father’s cheers.
“Never,” she said. “He’s so quiet, he barely even claps. But I love looking up in the stands and seeing my dad there to support me. It’s been going on for a long time now.”
Basketball has indeed been a big part of the De La Cerda family’s routine. Jaedyn’s older brother, Deyton, played collegiately at Eastern New Mexico, and family shoot-arounds and pickup games were common over the years. Jayden’s mom, Tara, and siblings Deyton and Addycen, have all gathered at the Pit to watch her play on occasion.
But frequently it’s just Willie in the stands, continuing a tradition that began when Jaedyn was playing for Roswell High and her AAU team, New Mexico Heat Elite.
“My dad drove to my high school games in Carlsbad and Hobbs,” Jaedyn said, “and to a bunch of my AAU games all over the place. One time I played in an All-American tournament in Georgia and he wanted to drive like 16 hours to get there. I told him, ‘No, Dad, sit this one out. Stay home!'”
Willie did accompany Jaedyn on a fateful AAU trip to Arizona in 2016, however, shortly after she led Roswell High to a Class 5A championship as a junior. It was the first time UNM coach Mike Bradbury saw Jaedyn play in person, and he wasted no time offering a scholarship.
“It was her decision to play at UNM,” Willie said, “but I was glad she made it. To me it felt like a perfect fit – and I could keep coming to games.”
Willie, who works as a dental technician in Roswell, said he is “blessed” to have a job that accommodates his basketball-watching. He’s typically off for UNM’s weekend games, but midweek contests make for long days.
“I work in the morning, get off around 2 (p.m.) and drive up to Albuquerque,” he said. “I watch the game, hang out with Jaedyn and have dinner, then drive back. I usually get home around 1 or 2 (a.m.). It’s not bad.”
Willie said he’s been lucky not to encounter severe winter weather on his trips other than occasional fog. He concedes, though, that his drives through southeast New Mexico can be extraordinarily dull.
“Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll see some antelope or a jackrabbit,” he said.
Fortunately, visits to the Pit have been more entertaining. Willie said he’s enjoyed getting to know some of Jaedyn’s UNM teammates over the years, and he roots for them in the same quiet fashion in which he supports his daughter.
As one might expect, though, Willie’s favorite highlights involve No. 23.
He recalled a 2019 game against San Jose State in which Jaedyn set a team record by scoring 31 points off the bench. Willie also fully enjoyed UNM’s come-from-behind 75-72 win over San Diego State earlier this month. In that game Jaedyn scored 17 points and hit a key, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter.
“That 3-pointer really kind of changed the momentum,” he said, “and the Lobos took off after that.”
Like many fans, Willie is excited about UNM’s hot start this season (15-4 overall, 6-0 Mountain West) and is looking forward to watching his daughter’s final campaign play out. Next season, he admits, will be an adjustment.
“I’ll probably miss it,” he said of traveling to games. “I don’t think there was ever really a decision to do this, I just wanted to watch Jaedyn play. It’s a short time in her life, and basketball’s been something we’ve enjoyed together as a family. To me it’s been a lot of fun.”