UNM freshman Chavez works the NIL game, to a Degree - Albuquerque Journal

UNM freshman Chavez works the NIL game, to a Degree

UNM’s Natalia Chavez (left) slaps hands with teammate Mackenzie Curtis during Tuesday’s practice. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)

Natalia Chavez’s college basketball career officially began Monday – the first day of fall practice for the University of New Mexico women’s team.

Her first national NIL deal was announced Tuesday.

Chavez, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard best known around New Mexico for helping lead Volcano Vista High School to back-to-back state basketball championships, scored a national name, image, licensing agreement with Degree Deodorant. Chavez is part of Degree’s Year 2 NIL #BreakingLimits Team.

“It’s a great feeling,” Chavez said after the Lobos’ practice Tuesday at the Davalos Basketball Center. “I was surprised I got it, coming from the (Cochiti) reservation and just being from New Mexico. A lot of people here don’t get that kind of opportunity – and I haven’t even stepped on a college court yet.”

Chavez said she went after the agreement with Degree (which includes an undisclosed financial stipend) after seeing a post on the company’s website in August. The #BreakingLimits Team memberships are awarded to players with intriguing stories of overcoming adversity. Chavez shared her story of growing up playing “Rez ball” on dirt courts before attending high school at Volcano Vista.

She provided photos and wrote her own copy and was one of 22 student-athletes selected from among hundreds of entries.

“I saw (Degree’s) announcement on Instagram and decided to reach out to them,” Chavez said. “I was really excited when I got it, but I couldn’t tell anyone until (Tuesday). Keeping it a secret was hard.”

It’s not Chavez’s first appearance on a national stage. She was nominated for an ESPY after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from near midcourt to win the 2021 Class 5A state championship game. Chavez and VVHS-UNM teammate Jaelyn Bates also helped their New Mexico Elite team win Native American Basketball Invitational national titles in 2019 and 2021.

Still, Chavez admits she has a long way to go in her collegiate basketball career.

“It’s a lot different playing with people who are at the top of the Mountain West every day,” she said. “I’m starting over and have to prove myself. But my impression is that this team is gelling really well and we push each other to improve. That’s what I need right now.”

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