Aaliyah Wilson was having the kind of year she envisioned from the day she represented Muskogee as a McDonald’s All-American.
She was a top-20 scorer in the Southeastern Conference, and right along the top 10 in steals, blocks and assists/turnover ratio through nine games when she tore both the ACL and MCL in her left knee during in Texas A&M’s game against UC-Riverside Dec. 14, 2018.
“In Hawaii,” she recalled this week, able to laugh about it now. “That’s not supposed to happen in Hawaii.”
Paradise lost, perhaps?
It would seem so, being as that it’s been what she called “a series of unfortunate events” ever since she left Muskogee High with Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year, three-time All-Phoenix MVP, Female Athlete of the Year in 2016 and of course the school’s only McDonald’s honor.
But Wilson is still determined to overcome.
She’d already had good practice with it.
Just months after signing with Arkansas out of MHS, she was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an auto-immune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid. She experience four months of serious illness, either in the hospital or at home.
“I remember not feeling well toward the end of my senior year when I went to USA Trials and there were two or three things I had done where I had been feeling kind of off and just lethargic,” she said.
“When I checked in at Arkansas they found out I had it and put me on medicine. I was losing weight and just a bunch of other things and the medicine was causing me to lose white blood cells and in the process, I wound up with mono while I was still dealing with the hyperthyroidism. That whole summer was hard.”
She returned to school in September, and began preparing for a return to the court. She appeared in 26 games, averaged 15 minutes of court time and 4.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
Wilson became uneasy with goings-on with the Arkansas coaching staff and program, which was 2-14 in conference that year. She decided to transfer, at the time the third player to transfer over a four-month period.
It restarted a process she had become quite familiar with as a Muskogee senior — being recruited again. Ironically, her career high as a freshman, 20 points, came against Texas A&M.
“I was already familiar with the Power Five schools. I kind of already knew what I wanted to do and who I was comfortable with so it was pretty easy,” she said.
A&M wasn’t among the schools on the final cut the first time when in front of an estimated 200 or so family, teammates and friends in the MHS cafeteria, she picked up an Arkansas cap, leaving behind Baylor, Kansas and LSU.
Going there the second time around forced her to sit out a season due to transfer rules. Then, prior to her injury in 2018, she averaged 13.8 points and was 10th in steals, 11th in blocks and 13th in assist-turnover ratio.
She returned after knee surgery, but the process was slow.
“When I came back the team was a veteran team with established chemistry. I just told the coaches I’d do whatever was needed,” she said.
She played in all 30 games but started in nine, one of the last of those March 1 against South Carolina, her third double-digit scoring game in succession.
At 22-8, they were a good bet to get to the NCAA tournament, but the bet never got placed. Both the men’s and women’s national tournaments were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was trying to get back into the flow of everything,” she said. “I never really thought I got back to the point where I was myself.”
But in this calamity that has brought everything to a halt is a silver lining for Wilson. Considering the adversity she’s been through, it’s about time she found one. She has one season of eligibility left, feels as good as she’s felt in her career— and is already back to thinking about that professional dream that not too long ago seemed like a breakaway slam-dunk.
“Now I’m able to rehab without the stress of games,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting back to 100 percent. I think (next season) will be a good year for myself.”
Hopefully for Wilson, paradise has been rediscovered — if not in Hawaii, then College Station, Texas.