Aaliyah Chavez is Taking Over Women’s Hoops On Her Own Terms

This story appears in SLAM 248. Get your copy here.

It’s crazy to think there was almost a moment when five-star recruit Aaliyah Chavez didn’t play basketball. Growing up in Texas, Chavez admits that when she was younger, she’d mostly sit at home and watch television on the couch, or she would see other kids playing basketball in the park. That’s when she got an idea. “I was like, Oh, that looks fun to play.” 

The way her dad and trainer, Sonny, remembers it, the Monterey High School star wasn’t exactly the athletic type when she was little. “She couldn’t ride a bike, couldn’t ride a skateboard, you know, all the things that I grew up [doing] as a kid,” he says over the phone. Despite initially telling her no, young Aaliyah didn’t give up. “She just was pretty adamant about playing,” he adds. 

Sonny, who played football, decided he’d see just how badly Aaliyah, who was in third grade at the time, really wanted it. So, he started putting her through workouts that had nothing to do with basketball but tested her mental toughness. They’d work on plyometrics with boxes he had built. He’d have her jump and try to touch the door frame or work on ballhandling in the driveway with tennis balls. “[I was] just trying to push her to quit and to realize that sports was not for her. [But] she did everything I asked, so I ended up signing her up.” 

A few days before tryouts, Sonny taught her how to block a shot, but that was really the extent of her basketball training before she played her first game. Back then, Aaliyah couldn’t score a layup, but her grit was on full display. She’d go out there and snatch the ball from the other little girls, and block shots, too, just like her dad had taught her. In fourth grade, she tried out for a local AAU squad with older players but was told during practice that she wasn’t good enough. That was a defining moment for her. “I think that was really [when I was] like, Oh, I’m gonna prove you wrong.”

That’s not the only hate Aaliyah has had to deal with throughout her journey. From doubters to jealous parents complaining about her minutes to people telling her father that “she’s not gonna
be that good because she’s Hispanic,” and that he was pushing her too hard. It’s safe to say that Chavez has proved everyone wrong. Today, she’s the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2025 and has narrowed down her college list to 10 top Division I programs: Texas Tech, Arizona, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, South Carolina, USC, Tennessee, Texas and UCLA.

And both she and her family have done it all on their own terms: rather than go to an elite prep school halfway across the country, she’s chosen to stay at home and play for Monterey. 

When we caught up with Chavez for her SLAM HS Basketball Diary (read here), she had just scored her 3,000th point and claimed she would’ve dropped 50 had her coach not sat her out.

That’s the type of confidence Chavez carries herself with every time she steps on the floor: “I’d describe my game as an all-around player,” she tells us. “I can shoot, I can get to the bucket, I can defend, I’m a playmaker at the same time. If you’re open, I’m gonna find you, and some of the passes I’ve been making are crazy. I think I just make crazy passes because I’m not afraid to try them.” 

Portraits by Zach Tijerina.

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