Chicago — Aaliyah Collins jogging the ball to the floor after a minute and a half of overtime at the Off-the-National Radar Monday night contest. Her Chicago State University was tied to Wisconsin 56-56, and her freshman turned to her teammates on the right.
In a blink of an eye, Collins crossed over to the left, defeated the defender, forged a pass to the left corner, and flipped the ball towards the rim. It didn’t fall, but a foul was called. She quietly sank both free throws.
Few observers at the time were aware of the importance of the moment, except for the fact that it led her team. You see, those free throws didn’t just give Cougars a lead — they gave Cougars a permanent lead. On Monday, November 22, 2021, Chicago won its first basketball match on 674 days.
“We were celebrating to win the championship,” says Collins.
Most Collins caliber players aren’t interested in playing with a team that just won before the season. After all, Collins was the 2021 Washington State Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. But for the self-proclaimed Underdog, her fit was perfect.
“Chicago has checked many checks on the list I was looking for at school,” Collins says. “I really wanted to be near the city. I wanted a lot of ethnic groups. I wanted to be far away from my house.”
What about basketball? It was just added to her drive.
“People may see it, and then they don’t want to come for the record,” Collins says. “But who says he can’t help change that?”
Collins didn’t form a fifth grade basketball team almost 10 years ago, so “I wanted to prove that people were wrong.” “Before high school, I wasn’t really the best player,” she says. “I had a lot of trouble.”
It is no exaggeration to say that Collins has already proved that many are wrong. She ranks in the top 30 in the country with 2.6 steals per game. She is a freshman on average at least 14 points, 3 assists and 2.5 steals per game in Division I. Dynamic point guards are advancing at a pace of shattering program records in several categories.
It’s certainly the type of season where many coaches are kicking themselves. Some of the departments I offered to Collins were pulled when a pandemic occurred, and she went for months without a single scholarship offer.
“I was very disappointed at first,” Collins told Sam Briefs last month. Qi State Pod.. “I had a very strict confidence in myself.”
Until the winter of Collins’ senior season, her former teammate’s uncle, who had a relationship with Chicago State University head coach Tiffany Sardine at the time, contacted them.
“I was surprised she was still available,” says Sardin. “We were fortunate.”
The restrictions of COVID-19 at the time forced Sardines to rely on movies, phones and zoom during the recruitment process. It included watching a clip of Collins’ running track and showing off her speed.
“She was smoking, but out of nowhere she turned on the jet and won the race,” recalls Sardine. “I had to look at the clips several times thinking’Wow!’.”
When the two were connected, Iwashi persuaded the high school sensation to participate in a rich, historyless program. “I was very honest and answered all the questions that Aaliyah and her parents had,” says Sardine. “They were ready and did a lot of research on Chicago and myself.”
What is the biggest selling point of squid? “I told her I thought I could be a special player that Chicago hadn’t seen for a long time,” says Sardine. “If she wasn’t allergic to working hard, being challenged, and being held accountable for her … that’s why something is changing.”
Collins quickly committed, and since then the two have formed a special bond.
“I have a lot of respect for the woman,” says Collins. “Before our game, she told me,” I have a lot of trust in you. “
“I’m a freshman. Do you really want to do it?’But it just stuck to me because there are so many coaches to put their trust in the freshman.”
That trust looks like a wise decision on the part of Sardine as Collins gets closer and closer to becoming Chicago’s first WAC Freshman of the Year. Collins has already won five WAC Freshman of the Week awards and became the first mid-major player in two years to win the USBWA Tamika Catchings National Freshman of the Week in January. Ayoka Lee, Aliyah Boston, Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clarke, Azzi Fudd, Anisa Morrow.
But Collins isn’t most interested in personal praise.
“I want to catch a little more dub,” she says.
That spirit spurred Collins to lead the high school team to an undefeated season as a senior.That’s what Sardine mentioned when she called Collins “Fierce competitors” Signing her; that’s why Collins urged me to apologize for losing to the league’s best team during an interview with this piece.
The true test of the desire to win occurs when no one is watching, that is, when the scoreboard is off and the camera is not spinning. It was one of those times when Sardine saw who her top recruit could be after Collins injured her ankle during summer training.
“She didn’t mean to say a word, she just got over the pain and fought,” says Sardine. “I was really worried that I couldn’t practice for a few days or get full in summer training. At that moment I knew this kid would be special in this program and league. I don’t know if anyone else fought the discomfort and pain she felt just by going out for court training with her teammates. “
Collins is off to a good start when it comes to in-game results. She has led Chicago to three more victories to match the sum of her last five seasons since her first victories in November. If Sardine’s young and up-and-coming coaching savant is in command, it will definitely increase where it came from.
As Collins continues to gain more recognition, she trusts her family for where she is today. She has two older brothers, Kaela and Anthony, who call her the “greatest motivator.” She attributed her love for this sport to her father Tony. “”[My dad] He has a great passion for games and he just spread that passion to me, “she says.
Aaliyah also believes that Tony, who coached her in elementary and junior high school, is responsible for her ability to blockade in court.
“He definitely believes in defense so much that he has done a lot with me about defense,” she says. “He feels like a big part of my success in basketball.”
But because of as much love that Aaliyah has for her parents and siblings, they aren’t the ones most excited about what she talks about when she calls home.
“Sometimes I call my parents, and I get like” Where are the cats? “,” She says. “Before we really talk [my parents] I want to meet a cat! “
It’s perfect that Collins wore a cougar on her jersey. Collins’ enthusiasm for her three cats (“They are my babies”) symbolizes what sets her apart: the vibrant energy that shines in her play. ..
That same energy is passed on to the Collins fandom. Originally from Snohomish, Washington attracts the Seattle Storm. This is a good choice for players who are incorporating ex-Stormguard Jordan Canada shades into their games.
Like Canada, Collins wears a hat on the defensive side of the ball. Her jump shot is an ongoing task, but “I’m in the gym every day and working on it,” she says. She has already produced an aggressive side. She averages over 20 points per game with her team’s wins, including 25 points against Madison’s badger.
Looking back on the losing team requires an extraordinary coach, but all the great sports reconstruction stories are co-authored by Star Athletes, a “franchise face” type player with the perfect blend of talent and personality. There seems to be. Program performance and its marketability. Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry took the Warriors from their 18-year playoffs to perennial candidates. Brad Underwood and Ayo Dosunmu made Illinois men’s basketball stand out after years of irrelevance. Adia Barnes and Ari McDonald led Arizona to last year’s national title game, three years away from the 6-24 season.
Chicago is still climbing the front edge of the mountain, but Iwashi may have found her Arimak Donald in Ariya Collins. So, for the first time in my recent memory, there is hope for a program in Chicago’s South Side. Behind the sardines, Collins, and friends, I hope Couga is on track to “catch a little more dub.”
Calvin Wetzel is a contributor to Just Women’s Sports and deals with basketball and betting. He has also contributed to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine, and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter @ cwetzel31..