No place like home: UConn’s Edwards excited for Canadian homecoming
For UConn women’s basketball star Aaliyah Edwards, it’s nice not coming home to Canada alone.
Edwards, who hails from Kingston, Ont., is in Toronto for her senior homecoming game where the Huskies will take on the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold Wednesday. This is UConn’s third homecoming game of 2023-24, having already honoured fellow 2020 recruiting classmates Nika Muhl and Paige Bueckers this season.
“It’s so exciting,” Edwards said Tuesday afternoon. “As soon as we landed at Pearson I was like ‘yeah, this is home.’ It’s kind of weird to have my teammates here with me because whenever I come home, it’s by myself or for national team obligations but to have them here with me to share this experience, words really can’t describe it but I’m just super excited and pumped for tomorrow.”
While Kingston will always be home to her, Edwards played her final two years of high school in Toronto at Crestwood Prep. She will face a TMU squad helmed by Carly Clarke, who has coached Edwards on the Canadian senior national team. The Bold are 10-0 so far this season with Clarke steering the program to its first U Sports women’s basketball championship in 2022.
On the UConn side, the team is on an upswing winning their last four games but haven’t been the Huskies of old, as they are ranked just 17th in the NCAA Division I women’s college basketball rankings.
The Bold will have their hands full with Edwards who continues to shine as one of UConn’s pillars. The fourth-year forward is averaging 16 points (second on the team) and 8.0 rebounds per game (first) and is coming off a double-double performance on Monday night against Butler. She leads the Huskies in field goal percentage at .571 and is averaging the second-most time on court this season at 30.7 minutes, second only to Muhl.
Six years ago, then-UConn star and now current Seattle Storm guard Kia Nurse had her senior homecoming, also at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto against Duquesne University. Nurse and Edwards have played with each other on numerous occasions for the Canadian senior national team.
Having followed in her footsteps so far, Edwards is grateful knowing Nurse will be in the stands watching her on Wednesday.
“She’s like a big sister to me and I look up to her,” said Edwards of Nurse. “But to have her be so supportive of me and my game and my journey, it’s meant a lot to me, especially going to UConn and kind of falling into her steps, trying to exceed her steps as well because I’m pretty competitive with her but it’s going to be a great full circle moment.”
Edwards, 21, is one of the youngest players on the national team but in the Huskies locker room, she is now relied upon as a leader. In developing her leadership style, she cites Nurse and fellow Canadian nationals Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton as big influences.
“I think that having them take me under their wing and show me the ropes when I’m with the national team has really helped me translate that leadership onto the UConn team,” said Edwards. “Coach [Geno Auriemma] asks a lot of me as a forward on the team and also as a senior on the team to look out for the underclassmen.
“But I take that with a lot of pride and I take a lot of responsibility in the things that we do and when he wants us to execute things.”
That leadership has been needed from her more than ever on UConn these days, with injuries hitting the team hard again this season. In July, redshirt freshman Jana El Alfy underwent surgery for a torn Achilles. Both junior guard Azzi Fudd and sophomore forward Ayanna Patterson have had season-ending knee surgery. Junior Caroline Ducharme also has not played in over a month as she continues to deal with neck spasms.
Edwards, along with Lou Lopez Senechal, who was drafted fifth overall by the Dallas Wings at the 2023 WNBA Draft, were the only two UConn players who played all 37 games for the Huskies last season in a campaign where Bueckers was absent all year with a torn ACL with Fudd, Ducharme and Dorka Juhasz also missing time.
In finding the balance between supporting injured teammates off the court while trying to carry on and get the job done on it, Edwards cites two key factors.
“I would say that it comes with a lot of energy and a lot of resilience because without those two then we can’t be successful,” Edwards explained. “And what I mean by energy is constantly pouring, tapping and leaning on one another because it is tough to navigate through adversity, especially [since] we’ve been hit [with injuries] so many times my past couple years being at UConn.”
Edwards is eligible for the 2024 WNBA Draft but has an option to return for a fifth NCAA season. The highest-drafted Canadian in WNBA history is Stacey Dales, who went third overall to the Washington Mystics in 2002 while Mississauga’s Laeticia Amihere went eighth overall last season after four years at South Carolina.
While she isn’t ready to reveal her plans for next season, Edwards would like to have draft bragging rights and, in particular, would love to go ahead of where Nurse (10th) and Achonwa (ninth) were selected in the draft.
“Until the time comes I’m really just chilling and just staying in the moment with my teammates but for sure if the time comes, I’m definitely bragging it for sure,” said Edwards.