It’s been a long time since Aaliyah Edwards has played basketball on the court at Ontario’s Frontenac Secondary School.
The former Frontenac standout led the Falcons to city, regional and provincial championship titles.
“All of her success really isn’t a surprise to any of us, because the moment she walked in the building we knew she was special and we knew she had a lot to give,” Falcons basketball coach, Karlyn Pixley said.
Along the way, Edwards represented Ontario and eventually Canada, all by Grade 10.
“It’s one of those things that it is special to say that we coached her but I think I learned more from her than she learned from me,” Pixley said.
For her last two years of high school, Edwards transferred to Crestwood Preparatory College in Toronto before being recruited by the University of Connecticut Huskies of the NCAA.
Aalyiah, and her signature purple and gold braids, which are an homage to Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers, have thrived at the American collegiate level. She was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team and Sixth Woman of the Year in her first season and a Third-Team All-American this past year.
“The standard, and the level of excellence that they demand from us as athletes there, I think in that type of environment every day you’re practicing against the best players which are my teammates, and then when we go into competitions go into games — we’re prepared,” Aaliyah Edwards said.
Her play has gotten better with each season. In 2022-23, she averaged a double-double per game at 18.3 points and 11 rebounds, and with Aaliyah on their roster, the UConn Huskies have boasted impressive seasons, reaching the final four in two of the three including an appearance in the championship game.
And more often than not, her parents were nearby cheering from the stands. Last season the Edwards were in attendance for all but two of Aaliyah’s games including those played on the road. They even became the subject of broadcast banter during televised games.
“You know when you have nine or 10 thousand people in an arena, cheering for your daughter and her team you can’t help but scream,” Aaliyah’s mother, Jackie Edwards said.
“To have my parents travel the distance and to come, it’s just mad love for me, mad love for what I’m passionate about and I’m just grateful to have parents who are willing to do that,” Aaliyah said.
But this past season didn’t go according to plan. The Huskies were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the Sweet Sixteen, ending a 14-year run of advancing to at least the final four.
In what could be her final year in the NCAA Aaliyah hopes the Huskies can return to the championship game and come away with a different result.
“You know, me as a competitor, I’m not settling for Sweet Sixteen. I want to get back to a national championship game. I’ve got one more season left in me so that’s the goal,” Aaliyah said.
“I think Aaliyah prepared for where she is right now. She had those ethics when she was younger,” Jackie Edwards said. “When she was here at Frontenac, she understood that she’d have to get in the gym before school and get back in the gym after school. So I think the commitment and dedication is just off the charts, but she finds a way.”
And as if her list of accomplishments needed to be longer, Aaliyah has also accumulated an impressive international resume.
She has played for Canada Basketball at every possible level, often returning home with a medal. She even competed as an 18-year-old at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And in 2022 she was named MVP of the new Global Jam Under-23 tournament where Canada won gold.
“One of my dreams growing up was to become an Olympian, and to actually say that I am an Olympian is just amazing,” Aaliyah said. “It just shows that if you really want something in life you have to really work for it and it will be earned.”
Over the summer Aaliyah has several more international commitments as Team Canada makes a run at the Paris Olympics in 2024, aiming to improve on their Tokyo effort where they failed to make it out of the round robin.
“The goal is ‘Road to the Podium’, we’ve got qualifiers in February as well. It’s a lot of moving pieces, but this summer my focus is mainly just to be with the national team, to be with the seniors,” Aaliyah said.
Having enjoyed success at every level, and developing into one of the best in the NCAA, Aaliyah still isn’t satisfied and wants to take it to the next level by being drafted into the WNBA next summer.
“Oh? Absolutely! That’s the dream, that’s the vision my goal is to get drafted — you know I’d love to play in the WNBA,” Aaliyah said.
“And I see her there,” Jackie said. “With God’s will and her continued commitment to the sport, in five years I hope to see her in the WNBA and just being happy.”
And while Toronto is not quite the gym at Frontenac Secondary School, as the league flirts with the idea of Canadian expansion, a homecoming of sorts could be on the horizon for Aaliyah Edwards.
“My goal definitely would be to come back to Canada, come back to my roots, come back to the people that I love and the country that I love and to play on home soil.”