Aaliyah Edwards gets ready to take on the world

By Ian MacAlpine

On Monday April 15, Aaliyah Edwards was selected sixth by the Washington Mystics in the 2024 WNBA draft. 

On April 5, Kingston-born basketball player Aaliyah Edwards played her last college game in Cleveland, in a tense National College Athletic Association (NCAA) championship semi-final game between the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

edwards vs university of connecticut
Credit: University of Connecticut

Not since Jayna Hefford’s four-straight hockey Olympic gold medals between 2002 and 2014, Simon Whitfield’s triathlon gold in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, and pitcher Matt Brash’s Major League Baseball debut in 2022 has a Kingston born and bred athlete competed in such a high-profile sports event.

Edwards, 21, a Senior at UConn, has come a long way from playing minor basketball for the Kingston Impact and high school hoops for the Frontenac Falcons.

Unfortunately, Edwards’ college career ended on the Cleveland hardcourt, a 71–69 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. A controversial offensive foul call on her in the dying seconds of the game ended the Huskies’ chances at a national championship. Iowa went on to play the South Carolina Gamecocks in the NCAA final, losing 87–75.

Back home in Kingston this week for a few days between the NCAA tournament and the WNBA draft, Edwards was busy signing with a sports representative agency and agreeing to endorsement deals. Her parents – mother Jackie and father Eddie – have been supporting her through the transition from a college athlete to a professional.

She’ll be in New York City on Monday for the WNBA draft. Speculation is that Edwards will be selected in the top five.

She also graduates from UConn this spring. Edwards majored in communications and minored in human development and family studies.

Edwards vs Dayton
Credit: University of Connecticut

Edwards said she loved her time in Storrs, Connecticut. “I have a lot of great memories and the opportunity to have coach [Geno Auriemma], play with those girls, and be a part of that culture really just shaped me and helped me transition into what I’m trying to be which is a pro player.”

“Even though it was very far from home, I did feel the love here in Canada and especially Kingston.”

This season, the six-foot-three Edwards started all 37 games she appeared in, was second on the team with career-high 17.6 points per game, and led the team with a career-high 9.2 rebounds per game.

Over her four years at UConn, Edwards ranks 15th in program history with 1,861 career points, eighth in career rebounds with 1,020, earned 35 career double-doubles (sixth in team history), and was the sixth Huskies player with 1,800 points and 1,000 rebounds.

The two-time BIG EAST Player of the Week also made 76 assists, 36 blocks, recorded career-high 62 steals, and had 18 double-doubles in 2023–24.

Credit: Ian Macalpine

Edwards is easily noticeable when she plays, with her long and colourful braids swaying around her face while she’s attacking the basket or eluding an opponent.

“I definitely rock the purple and gold braids; it started in grade eight right before I came to Frontenac. The reason I did it was my passion for Kobe [Bryant] and everything he meant to me growing up. He was my childhood hero and also [for] my oldest brother Jermaine. We had a love for him and the passion he had for the game.” Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020 and Jermaine passed away in 2017. Edwards has another brother, Jahmal.

“I know I’ve earned a platform but also I’m very fortunate to be able to inspire and grow women’s basketball, not only here but across Canada.”

The WNBA will be paused while the Paris Summer Olympics is underway, and Edwards hopes to be a contributing member to the women’s team. She was on the Canadian team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in 2021 (delayed one year due to COVID-19).

Last year Edwards ran a youth basketball camp for kids out of Frontenac Secondary School and hopes to do more voluntary work in her hometown and make the camp an annual event. “I haven’t really had a big opportunity to give back to my community and that’s really a big thing that’s help motivate me and push me to excel and push me just to do better for myself because I’m kind of paving the way for the next generation and those that want to become and be a part of the opportunities that were given to me.”

edwards vs university of connecticut
Credit: University of Connecticut

She was appreciative that a large contingent from Frontenac and Kingston came down to UConn this past season to watch her play. “It was just so special, you remove yourself from high school and going to pursue your dreams in Division 1 and the relationships I’ve built especially here in Kingston where it was all started, the love and support was still there.”

With Edwards transitioning into the professional ranks and an Olympics this summer, it appears she’ll be competing on the world stage for years to come.