A pledge, Grand Theft Auto, and moving to America: Basketball isn’t Jaime Echenique’s only takeaway


Marshall Sunner

Wichita State senior Jaime Echenique smiles after getting fouled during the second half of the game against USF on Feb. 20 inside Charles Koch Arena.

Before Jaime Echenique came to the United States, he made a pledge to his father. Echenique’s dad didn’t know if he wanted to keep supporting his son playing basketball because he thought he should be solely focus on academics.

Echenique vowed just one more year — if no one took the bait on his recruiting, he’d be done with basketball and focus on his schooling. He needed basketball as an escape. Growing up in Colombia, he was in a gang for neighborhood protection. He witnessed death and hardship and he knew it wasn’t what he wanted.

Then Trinity Valley Community College came calling.

Echenique was getting his chance. It wasn’t the traditional Division-I route, but it would have to work. And Echenique was willing to put the work in.

“When people tell me no, I want to do it. I have to go do it,” Echenique said. “I want to give the best of me — I would prove that I can be better each day. So when people start saying no, obviously with a lot of faith, we’re like, ‘Should I take these or should I stay?’ I took that challenge. It’s like I keep pushing. I never stopped working.”

Even though he’s had his doubters, the senior has maintained a solid support system while chasing his dreams. Even before his collegiate career, Echenique knew he had the potential to extend his career and even play professionally. After two city changes in his home country, Echenique finally made it to America.

When he first landed in Dallas, Echenique was in awe. Growing up in Colombia, he had never seen a big city like it before. The first connection he drew was to the popular video game, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

“I remember I landed in Dallas and I was really scared. I knew a little bit of English, but it definitely wasn’t something crazy like I’m talking right now,” Echenique said. “I remember we get out of the airport and you know the video game, ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ — I feel like I was in a video game. I’m from Colombia. We don’t have these big highways. I feel like I was in a video game that I was playing.”

At Trinity Valley, Echenique started to develop and excel. He was learning English, getting an education, and doing what he loved — playing basketball. In his two years at the junior college, the big man averaged 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, all while shooting 65.4% from the floor in his career. His unique stature and skill got the attention of Baylor, Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Illinois, and New Mexico.

But he also raised Gregg Marshall’s eyebrows. And when Echenique gave his commitment to the Shockers, Marshall let out a sigh of relief.

“We got lucky,” he said.

It was an unusual road for Echenique to become a Shocker. As one of JUCOs top 100 recruits, he was invited to one of Jerry Mullen’s basketball camps. In 2018, that camp just so happened to be in Wichita. After seeing Echenique play at the camp, Marshall knew he could develop him.

“We had the opportunity to get him, but his people weren’t sure he could play for us. He didn’t even start for his junior college team,” Marshall said. “Even in the spring, they talked about, ‘Are you sure you want him?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ I’m glad we held to our guns and that he stayed with his commitment.

“He continues to get better.”

Looking at Echenique play, he’s not the same player that came off the bench at Trinity Valley. Standing at 6-11 with a 7-2 ¼ wingspan, he has an effective jump shot, good footwork in the post, and a knack for blocking shots. Marshall has developed Echenique.

In two seasons with the Shockers, Echenique has helped bring a traditional style of basketball back to Wichita. But at the same time, he’s a hybrid center who can stretch the floor and knock down three-pointers. A two-year starter, Echenique is averaging 9.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.

He’s also been a main catalyst for getting the Shockers back into the NCAA Tournament picture.

This Sunday marks Echenique’s last game as a collegiate player inside of Charles Koch Arena. Regardless of what goes down at the end of the season, though, Echenique said basketball hasn’t defined his short time in America. It’s the life lessons and transition into adulthood that he will cherish most, he said.

“So, everything was like, I planned it and God’s time was perfect for me,” he said. “It was really scary. You’re a young kid with a lot of dreams. You’re hungry and stuff for more. Actually, you’re going to face something that you’re never going to face. You have to live an adult life.

“Being on your own without your parents being there — my parents never sent me money or anything like that. That’s what I love. I never called my parents and said, ‘Hey, I need some money.’ I always solved my things on my own.”

When he graduates in May, Echenique will become the first person in his family to earn a college degree. But that’s not in his head at the moment — senior night inside Koch is his first form of graduation. He said it’s going to be hard to leave the floor for a final time on Sunday.

But at the end of the night, Echenique will be emotional. Not because it’s over, but because someone saw something in him. Because someone gave him his escape.

“I’m like damn, it’s really here. It’s a lot of emotion passing through my head right now. It’s a lot of things passing through my head,” Echenique said, stuttering. “A lot of emotions come. It’s like I can’t believe it’s the last time we’re going to play in front of these amazing people that have been supporting me since day zero.”