Every once in a while, a sports story comes along that’s so inspiring — so improbable and such an incredible testament to the potential of human will — that whatever game the main character plays ceases to matter at all.
Jorge Gutierrez has one of those stories. And it just began a magical new chapter.
The 25-year-old grew up Chihuahua, Mexico, where he fell in love with basketball as a teenager. Frustrated by a lack of hoops opportunity there, Gutierrez sneaked across the border illegally to attend high school and play ball at Denver’s Lincoln High.
Just 16, Gutierrez lived in an apartment with three other undocumented Mexican teens who had their own hoop dreams. Overcoming poverty and frequent hunger pains, Gutierrez excelled in Denver, but few colleges were interested.
After a post-grad year of prep school, the guard accepted a scholarship offer from the University of California, Berkeley — but only after another young player had reneged on his commitment to the school to free up the spot.
Gutierrez initially made his name in Berkeley as a reserve of limited talent, but one whose passion knew no bounds and whose kamikaze hustle plays could single-handedly change the course of a game. Over four years there, Gutierrez built himself into a star, winning 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year honors as a senior.
When he went un-drafted by the NBA and decided to play minor league basketball, most Cal fans figured that was the end of the Jorge story: A nice college player with an inspiring story who would go on to do himself proud somewhere other than basketball.
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