All last season, Jaedyn De La Cerda had limited court time during games. In practices she showed a nice outside shot, but was sometimes a step late to get into the right defensive position, especially when providing help from the off-ball side. But she was also the player who put the most extra time in at practices—often talking one of the coaches or other staff into shagging balls as she shot a couple hundred jumpers, or worked more on her defense.
In summer workouts she showed more confidence in here drills—both offensively handling the ball, and defensively guarding her player. She has been vocal and supportive of her mates, and repeatedly demonstrated that she is faster physically and anticipating on D more than reacting. In one rugged conditioning day she was consistently finishing in the top 3 in the sprints, and the more repetitions they ran, the more often she was near the front of the pack.
I was hoping to get this posted sooner, but I went to Yellowstone for 10 days, and did not realize just how little internet connectivity was in the park–almost NONE (not that it was a bad thing really.)
Joe: Most coaches say players improve the most between their freshman and sophomore years. Watching you in the defensive drills you are much more aggressive, staying on top of the person you’re defending. What did you work on this summer to improve?
Jaedyn: Playing defense smarter. Coach Bill said, if you’re not fast, you’ve got to be smart. Just smart with the defense: watching my teammates from last year–Cherise, Laneah, Tesha–how they were smart with defense and how they moved. What else have I been doing? I’ve been trying to eat right, lose some weight, and be lighter on my feet. Also, just hitting the weight room a lot.
Joe: Cherise was quick, but neither Laneah nor Tesha were particularly fast or quick.
Jaedyn: Tesha wasn’t quick but she was smart. She could move her feet so she could stay with the player and not be left behind.
Joe: The other thing you’ve obviously worked on is your shooting. Yesterday, you were out there after workouts, grabbed Bill and said, let’s shoot 5000 balls. Maybe not really 5000, but it was up around 250. Is there anything particular you’re working on offensively?
Jaedyn: Taking different shots. I’m a shooter, but I’m not always going to be able to just catch and shoot. I’m going to have to create my own shots, coming off ball screens, coming from the corner to the top. Different things like that to get open for different shots. [NOTE: By my count Jayden took 228 shots at a fast pace, with no breaks. Split about evenly between 3-Pt shots and mid-range jumpers, and from every angle baseline to baseline. She hit right near 70% of them.]
Joe: There are also a lot of changes to the roster–you have nine players that didn’t play last year. Only two of the top seven in minutes played are back this year. That’s a lot of playing time open for competition. Where do you see yourself fitting into this team?
Jaedyn: I see myself being a leader; always communicating on the court. Helping out other people: if they don’t know what they are going on the court I can help them out. Besides that, just making plays for my teammates and playing some good defense. Getting in position on the help side.
Joe: I’m glad you mentioned leadership, because otherwise I was going to. The people who seem to be the leaders last year are gone. I find it interesting to see who emerges as the talkers and encouragers–you certainly have been much more vocal in workouts than last year. What brought that about?
Jaedyn: Oh yeah. I should have been doing that last year as well. I guess being a freshman I felt that I couldn’t say anything, but this year I feel that I can be a leader just because the leaders moved on and somebody has to step up and talk and encourage everybody on the court. I feel that if I do that, it will bring other people to do it as well. We all have leaders.
Joe: Do you find you are explaining things for the freshman guards?
Jaedyn: Yeah. I like doing it. I’ll watch their faces and if I see the “What do I do?” look then I say, “Come here, I’ve got you. Let me show you what to do.” Then they are, like “Okay, I’ve got it now”. Just work on my communications and helping them get it.
Joe: I also notice in one on one and three on three drills that you have been playing some at the point. Do you anticipate they will ask you to play there some this year?
Jaedyn: If Coach Mike wants to put me there during certain plays, I’ll take it and I’ll do what he needs me to do. If that’s what he wants I will compete for the role, but I see myself more as a person coming out from the corner and looking to shoot.
Joe: Shooting. Tesha’s gone, Alex is gone, and Cherise is gone. Only one player on the roster took as many as fifteen three point shots all last season. You are obviously a good shooter. With all those people moving on, does that put more pressure on you and your shooting?
Jaedyn: I would say it puts pressure on me and it makes me want to compete to get that role. To take over Tesha’s spot as a shooter, and just be able to do what she did on the court.
Joe: Very few freshman are vocal. In the drills, you are constantly changing who you are guarding. Of all the other guards, who are the toughest matches for you?
Jaedyn: [Pause.] Aisha and Jayla. They they are so quick with their movement, especially Aisha. Her first step is…gone! That’s what I had struggled with this past year, guarding quick players. When I do guard her in practice, I feel it’s good for me so I can get better and be consistent. Aisha is the toughest match-up.
Joe: In the drills, someone might get passed you but I don’t see that brief hesitation of the brain telling the body what to do.
Jaedyn: I think I’m just staying on my feet and not just planting my feet on the ground—I don’t get caught flat footed on the floor. I’m up and moving my legs more. What else helps is knowing that we are not letting them drive middle or higher, so all they really have is baseline. My getting the hang of that more has helped me not get beat as much in the middle.
Joe: Normally during the interview I would ask why you wanted to come to New Mexico, but as the lone New Mexican on the team I’m going to change that question a little bit. Why UNM over NMSU?
Jaedyn: [Quietly] Because the Lobos are better. At the State tournaments we would come here and play at The Pit. My brother played basketball and he came here to play State. That first time I came here to watch him play in The Pit, I loved this place and want to play at The Pit. The gym is crazy. Everything in social media said best fans. I’ve never seen New Mexico State post pictures of their fans. I feel that the atmosphere in Albuquerque brought me here.
Joe: And we’re glad to have you here.
Jaedyn: Thank you.
Joe: Are you going to get your family to come out to New Mexico State when we’re down there?
Jaedyn: Oh yeah. My parents always go to the games, especially my Dad.
Joe: Who are you rooming with this year?
Jaedyn: I’m rooming with Aisha, Madi, Bridie, and Bre’.
Joe: The team moved from being across the parking lot to housing by the airport. How’s that going?
Jaedyn: Yes, we did. It’s going good. We have to leave a lot earlier to get here earlier–it’s not just a two minute drive or five minute walk. [NOTE: Coming from NYC, some of us have no sympathy for that “long” commute from the airport area. LOL.]
Joe: As far as school what are you studying?
Jaedyn: I’m wanting to do Criminology, and minor in Psychology.
Joe: Good complimentary pair. What got you interested in that?
Jaedyn: My aunt does it. She deals with people who have the ankle bracelets. I still have to look into a lot of things, but I think there are more opportunities in Criminology.
Joe: What do you see yourself doing in five years?
Jaedyn: Hopefully, playing basketball still. That’s one of the biggest things I want to do because I love the game so much. If things don’t work out that well, I want to move to California or Texas and start my life there with my degree.
Joe: Why those two states?
Jaedyn: California because it’s beautiful and they have a lot of water. Texas, just because many of my teammates are from there and they always say how cool it is so I want to experience it for myself.
Joe: What else would you like to say?
Jaedyn: It’s going to be a good season. And I can’t wait.