Editor’s note: With the athletic season cut short and our need for joy at an all time high, we asked ELi Sports writer Mark Meyer to start a new series for us, picking one Trojan athlete to feature each week. Here’s his first for the series.
On Dec. 10, 2019, in the second game of the season against the Williamston Hornets, Aaliyah Nye officially became the eighth member of the East Lansing High School girls basketball 1,000-point club.
Unofficially, the 5-foot-11 senior had likely scored 10 times as many points – on and off the court – with many of her Trojan varsity teammates over the past four seasons. Recently named Player of the Year in Division 1 by the Michigan Associated Press, Nye’s overall contribution to the success of the perennially state-ranked Trojans can be traced to her willingness to lead by example in practice and game situations, in the classroom and away from the spotlight.
“First and foremost, Aaliyah Nye is a very team-first kind of player,” East Lansing head coach Rob Smith said. “She’ll put her sisters on the team ahead of everything.”
Nye, who plans to continue her academic and athletic career at the University of Illinois, is being recognized today as East Lansing Info’s “Trojan of the Week.” In addition to her AP player of the year honor, she was also named to the Detroit News “Dream Team,” and for the third time was named to the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue division all-league team. In addition, she was one of three statewide candidates for the highly coveted Miss Basketball award.
Nye was one of two players to start all 24 games for the 23-1 Trojans this season. She led this year’s team in points (387), scoring average (16.1 points per game), rebounding (5.2 per game) and minutes played (489). She was joined on the all-CAAC Blue team by fellow Trojan seniors Ahlura Lofton and Sanaya Gregory, and sophomore Soraya Timms.
Nye was carrying a 3.9 grade point average with A’s in all of her classes before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a shutdown of schools throughout the State on March 13.
Sharing the spotlight was second nature
“You can have one great player on a team, but that doesn’t win you ballgames. It certainly doesn’t win you championships,” Smith said. “[Aaliyah] was able to cultivate this culture within the team where the other star players – the other phenomenal athletes – wanted to play just as hard as anyone else.”
As an example, Smith pointed to what turned out to be Nye’s last game as a Trojan: a 54-33 regional semifinal victory March 10 over Portage Central in which she was held scoreless.
“For her to come out and have that kind of game, when not a lot went right for her, and for the other kids to step up, it was really a culmination of all of her hard work and interaction with the girls,” Smith said. “To me, that’s great leadership.”
Nye was one of the reasons Lamariyee “Sug” Williams transferred from River Rouge to East Lansing for her senior year. The two had gotten to know each other while playing on the same AAU team, and Williams wanted desperately to be a part of this year’s team and to be Nye’s teammate again.
“I’m really glad it happened,” Williams said last month, prior to the beginning of district tournament play.
Smith credited Nye’s demeanor – “a special gift” – for strengthening her relationships off the court with her teammates.
“These girls are in school for seven hours, practice for two or three hours, there’s a lot of time spent … there can be, in certain instances, a lot of drama on teams,” Smith said. “She helped limit the drama on the team. She didn’t really say a lot in front of the coaching staff or with the girls; she said what needed to be said. Being humble through the whole process when she’s receiving accolades, and putting the team first during those moments, is what helped her gain respect of the team.”
A special moment: the State championship game
Nye moved with her family from Meridianville, Alabama, to East Lansing before the start of her freshman year. She said the experience of playing on the Trojans’ state runner-up team in 2018 with her twin sister Aashawnti and her older sister Aazhenii is a special memory, especially considering how this season ended so abruptly.
“It’s something I am blessed to have been a part of due to how our season ended this year,” Nye said. “But I’ll always remember sharing a good laugh with teammates.”
Family support, she said, also played a major role in her development as a student, athlete and person.
“My dad truly cared and supported the team. He would do whatever it takes to make us a better program,” Nye said. “My mom has truly helped me out through these years when I would be struggling to have a good game or just pushing me to get better.
“The last two years that I have spent living with my dad has been good. He has taken good care of me and will do whatever it takes to make me a better basketball player.”
Smith, who believes this year’s team had a very good chance to become the second girls team at ELHS to win a basketball state championship, has never underestimated the important role that parents play in the development of their children as students and athletes, or both.
“They don’t always get the credit they deserve,” Smith said, “especially someone like James [her father]. He wasn’t afraid to encourage her, in a positive way, and let his feelings be known.”
When asked what advice she would share with girls who are serious about improving their skills and becoming better teammates, Nye saved her most important points for last.
“Just be all in. It’s either one hundred percent or none,” Nye said. “You have to give your all in any drill or workout that you do. Never give up even when it gets hard; it will make you a stronger person and a better player.”
Perhaps, most importantly, she concluded: “If you are struggling with something, keep working on it until you perfect it – and make sure you are having fun.”