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Canadian Aaliyah Edwards is headed to the WNBA. Her high school basketball coach couldn’t be prouder | CBC Radio



As It Happens5:40Canadian Aaliyah Edwards is headed to the WNBA. Her high school coach couldn’t be prouder

High school basketball coach Karlyn Pixley says she always knew Aaliyah Edwards would achieve her childhood dream of playing in the WNBA.

Edwards, 21, of Kingston, Ont., was picked sixth overall by the Washington Mystics at the WNBA draft on Monday night

“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true, and to actually walk your dream, it means a lot,” Edwards said, her voice breaking, as she received her jersey on stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The draft comes amid record-viewing for the 2023-24 women’s college basketball season.

Pixley is the athletic director Kingston’s Frontenac Secondary School, and Edwards’ former coach. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

Did you get emotional as you watched that moment? 

I did. It’s so exciting. Like, when you see Aaliyah play and you know her personally, you know the time and the effort that she’s put into herself and her teammates and really anything she does. 

I remember in Grade 9 asking her, like, “What is your end goal? Where are we going here?” 

She said, with a little smile, “I want to play in the WNBA.”

And I just thought: She made it. 

WATCH | Edwards chosen 6th by Mystics: 

Canada’s Aaliyah Edwards selected 6th overall in WNBA Draft by Washington Mystics

University of Connecticut Huskies forward Aaliyah Edwards from Kingston, Ont., is chosen by the Washington Mystics as the sixth pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft.

Did you ever doubt it? 

No. As soon as she walked into the building, we knew that Aaliyah was special. And with her family behind her every step of the way, we knew that she would do great things. 

We always hoped that her dreams would come true, because if anybody deserves that, she does. Like, we always say good things happen to good people, and Aaliyah really is just one of the best. 

Her mother was part of her coaching team to get her to this point. You had a chance to speak with her, right? 

I sent her mom a message this morning just saying how great it was to see Aaliyah on such a stage last night.

You could really see and feel her personality. And in true Aaliyah fashion … she stood and applauded every single player that was chosen before her. 

And I just said, “She’s just such a class act.” And her mom just quickly texted back and said thank you for the note and that Aaliyah makes it easy to be parents. 

What about the students at the school? How were they reacting? 

I think everybody is a little bit in shock still.

The excitement is catching. And the girls’ basketball program here has definitely been following Aaliyah all the way through. 

All of the group chats were on fire last night.

A young woman with her arms around an older man and woman, all three smiling.
Canadian basketball player Aaliyah Edwards, centre, with her former coach Karlyn Pixley, right, and Frontenac Secondary School principal James Bonham-Carter, left. (Submitted by Karlyn Pixley)

All of the attention around it too, you know: the fact that the 14 million viewers watched the semi-finals … [and] designers outfitting a lot of these top ranked players. There’s a profile and prominence that many sports fans, specifically fans of women’s sports, have wanted to see …. for a long time. 

These women deserve every record and recognition that they are getting [for] the time and effort that they’ve put in. It’s so nice to see them rewarded and be treated like the stars they are. 

Their personalities definitely show in everything that they do, from what they wear to how they speak at the press conferences, and they’re really hitting home to a lot of the viewers

I think that that’s what’s drawing so much attention, is that they are real people doing really great things. 

You mentioned, as soon as she walked in all those years ago, you knew she was different…. What was it about her play and how she carried herself even all those years ago that told you this is a star in the making? 

She’s just so poised and confident, but humble at the same time, and recognizes that … it’s more than just herself out there.

Things may not go her way, and we’ve seen that in the games that she plays, but she doesn’t get down on herself, and her head is always up and she’s looking to improve and she’s looking to make the right adjustments and she’ll seek help. 

She’s just constantly looking to learn, which I think is so critical for young athletes who really do want to go far in their sport. And she just had that awareness [that] it takes a lot of things to make the complete package. And she was willing to put effort into every part. 

The hard work. 

Yeah, definitely — from her nutrition to her school to her workouts. Like, I would see her running around the neighbourhood after practice. And I just thought she understands what she needs to do, and the bit of extra will pay off. 

A basketball player shoots a jump shot as two opponents try to block her.
University of Connecticut Huskies forward Edwards shoots over Iowa opponents during the first half of a Final Four college basketball game on April 5, 2024, in Cleveland. (Morry Gash/The Associated Press)

This, for women’s sports, does feel like a turning point. What will you tell the younger basketball players that you’re coaching? I mean, do you imagine a time for them where there’s equal stardom, equal pay? 

I hope so. You know, we’re going in the right direction for sure.

That whole idea of the young girl who’s looking up to somebody to be their role model — Aaliyah has been that, and will continue to be that, for young girls. 

And there’s so many others out there that I think it will just naturally grow, and the awareness will just become more and more. 

Like, I really don’t see it stopping. And they’re household names now. So it’ll just naturally build with their stardom and their careers now in the WNBA.

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