When it comes to blue bloods in women’s college basketball, three schools come to mind for most.

Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Vols won eight national titles during her tenure, and more recently, South Carolina has won three titles since 2017 under Dawn Staley.

But one school stands alone.

UConn’s women’s team has won 11 NCAA championships, and Geno Auriemma is one of the winningest coaches in the sport. So when Kingston, Ont., native Aaliyah Edwards chose to play for the Huskies, representing Canada at one of the top schools in women’s basketball, more attention came with the territory.

Edwards, who was picked No. 6 overall by the Washington Mystics in Monday’s WNBA Draft, was no stranger to stepping up on the big stage. She led her Toronto high school, Crestwood Preparatory College, to three championships and was named the 2019-20 OSBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

She appeared in 29 games her freshman year, averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, earning honours such as the 2021 BIG EAST Sixth-Woman of the Year and making the 2021 BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.

Throughout her collegiate career, Edwards would go on to make it to the 2022 NCAA Women’s National Championship, playing 38 minutes in a loss to South Carolina, and also made it to the Final Four three times out of her four years of college.

Other accolades included being named the Big East Most Improved Player and Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player in 2023, averaging 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game during the 2022-23 season.

It was Edwards’ final year in Storrs that saw her notch career-high averages of 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and be named to the WBCA All-America, Wooden Award All-America, NCAA Tournament Portland 3 Region All-Tournament Team and All-Big East First Team in 2024.

While the ultimate goal of winning a national title with the Huskies never happened, thanks partially to the team dealing with major injuries to star players like Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd and Edwards herself, her time at UConn developed her into a WNBA-ready product who showed she not only can score and be physical on the glass, but is a high-IQ player who will fit the needs of the Mystics well.

Washington lost Natasha Cloud to the Phoenix Mercury while also having Elena Delle Donne sit out the 2024 season, but Edwards will fit in with the returning core of Ariel Atkins, Shakira Austin, Brittney Sykes and Myisha Hines-Allen.

When her name was called with the sixth overall pick, Edwards was filled with emotion knowing that the next chapter in her journey was only beginning.

“The moment, man, it was the moment for me. Right before the commissioner said my name, I just looked down and thought to myself and said a little prayer like, it’s your time, it’s God’s timing,” said Edwards.

“She said my name, and that’s when the waterworks started happening. So, just super grateful for this moment and opportunity.”

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After being selected No. 6, Edwards is now Canada’s second-highest draft pick in WNBA history, behind only Stacey Dales who was drafted third overall in 2002 by none other than the Mystics.

Previously, the second-highest pick for a Canadian was seventh overall, where Shona Thorburn was drafted in 2006 by the Minnesota Lynx.

With already high standards for herself, Edwards wants to grow her skillset and become an even better player, something she will certainly be able to do under Eric Thibault.

“I think one of the things going into this league that I want to do is just expand my game. Might be asked to play a different role, but I’m open to it. I see myself as a versatile player and impacting in any position that I’m asked to play,” said Edwards. “It’s going to be a tough league, tough first year. But, I’m pumped and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Expectations have been high for Edwards since she made waves in high school, and has done the same representing Canada on the national stage, making her Olympic debut in Tokyo as the youngest member of the Canadian women’s basketball team, and taking Canada to a Bronze medal at the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup.

Now she continues to raise the bar as she joins Natalie Achonwa, Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton and Laeticia Amihere representing Canada in the WNBA.

“Just to have a dream like this and to actually walk through it… It’s just amazing. A lot of people have dreams, but a lot of people aren’t able to achieve it. So for me to be fortunate enough to say that and to keep going and to keep pushing my dreams, it’s just amazing,” said Edwards.

The moment was not lost on the 21-year-old, who has been looked up to by young girls since she stepped foot on campus in Storrs, and will continue to do in Washington.

As Canada looks to secure a medal finish in Paris after a disappointing Games in Tokyo with Edwards part of the squad, and the six-foot-three forward also looks to establish herself and her career in the WNBA, her focus remains on basketball. However, she’s also determined to continue uplifting other Canadian women who are following in her footsteps.

“My message for the younger girls is just be confident, be who you are, but know your worth. Coming from Canada, I wasn’t given as many opportunities as, say, my fellow draftees, but I made the best out of it,” said Edwards.

“I earned everything that I was given. So, stay humble, but let them know.”





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