Jorge Gutierrez entered the pitch-black Denver apartment late in the evening. There was no point in flipping on the light switch; the power had been shut off. The limited money he and his roommates received from their families in Mexico had to go toward groceries and other essentials. Why spend it on utilities, the teenagers figured, when they went straight to bed after a long day of school and practice.
“We didn’t really pay for it,” Gutierrez said to Basketball Insiders. “Either we forgot or we didn’t have it. We would just go without.”
At 16, Gutierrez made the decision to move from Chihuahua, Mexico to the United States with three friends to pursue their basketball careers. Gutierrez had watched the NBA on TV and dreamed of playing on that level. In order to do so, he believed, he would have to leave home.
Gutierrez already knew someone from Mexico living in an area of Denver with a large Hispanic population. He and his friends were driven across the border by one of their fathers, the details of which he prefers not to discuss. Dropped off in a new city where he didn’t speak the language, the youngest of three sons was instantly thrown into adulthood.
“I had to grow up faster than anybody else,” said Gutierrez. “I missed being a kid. I think that’s probably the hardest thing that I lived through, that I had to become a man right away.”
Gutierrez shared a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with his three roommates their first year. They took turns sleeping on the bed and the couch in the living room. By their second year, they moved into a two-bedroom space.
Without a car, he and his roommates walked a mile to school each day. They also walked to the grocery store, where Gutierrez learned how to shop for food on his own.
“We had to support each other … we had to cook for each other, take care of each other—cleaning, doing the laundry, little things that I never really did,” he recalled. “My mom used to do all that stuff. She showed me so I knew how to do (my laundry), but going grocery shopping, I had never done that before.”
Playing basketball was always top priority for the 6’3 guard. Gutierrez thrived at Abraham Lincoln High School in spite of the fact he and his teammates faced opposing sentiments from some fans due to their immigration. “They thought they were taking their sons’ spots on the team,” he said. Nonetheless, he went to lead the team to the Colorado state championship and win tournament MVP.
Gutierrez moved again, this time to Las Vegas to play for Findlay Prep. The team went 32-1, reached the National Prep Championship tournament finals, and he was named MVP. Gutierrez played college basketball at University of California, where he picked up a slew of honors including 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. After going undrafted that summer, Gutierrez made stops in the NBA Development League before making his NBA debut last season on March 9 with the Brooklyn Nets.
“My dream has always been being here, playing in the best place in the world,” he said.
This summer Gutierrez competed in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup for Mexico. He returned to training camp with the Nets, posting 12 points, 5 assists and 3 steals in 24 minutes in the preseason finale Wednesday against the Boston Celtics.
As the team eyes final cuts, it remains to be seen if he earns a roster spot. Following the final game he said he was pleased with his preseason performance and came in every day of training camp to compete. After leaving his home to chase his NBA aspirations, Gutierrez will keep pushing regardless of what happens.
“I hope to show that life is hard,” he said. “It will always be hard, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
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