When it comes to the qualities basketball coaches covet at the point guard position, it’s hard to find a box that Glacier Peak High School senior Aaliyah Collins doesn’t check.
The 5-foot-7 guard’s skill-set is essentially the prototype of what’s expected at the position often referred to as the “floor general.”
She’s a ball-hawking defender with elite athleticism, a distributor and scoring threat on offense that can pick apart defenses with her ability to drive to the hoop, and she posses the immeasurable intangibles that come along with innate leadership skills.
“Aaliyah has come in from day one and she has been a very impactful player for our program,” Glacier Peak teammate Malia Smith said. “She can get to the rim really whenever she wants to, whether she’s in the mood or not. I think she is the most athletic person I’ve ever played with on a team. … Her work ethic is just unbelievable.”
It’s been a storied career at Glacier Peak for Collins, who started playing varsity for the powerhouse Grizzlies as a freshman. The list of accolades she’s accumulated over the years is lengthy.
By the end of her junior season, she’d been to the Tacoma Dome twice, won two state trophies, made two All-Wesco teams and earned all-tournament honors at the Hardwood Classic.
Her success continued into her senior season.
Collins averaged 16 points, four assists and three steals per game during the abbreviated 2021 girls basketball campaign while leading an ultra-talented Glacier Peak squad to a perfect 9-0 season.
For her stellar senior season, Collins is The Herald’s 2021 All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“It’s been a blast,” Collins said of her career at Glacier Peak. “Being successful, yes, is fun, but I think the best part about it is just the bonds (we made) and the family environment that we created on the team.”
Those bonds are ones Collins has been instrumental in building.
Collins’ teammates are quick to compliment her abilities on the court, but they’re even quicker to point out how impactful her personality and positive spirit has been for the program.
“She’s a great player on the court, but off the court her personality is amazing,” teammate Elyse Waldal said. “She’s always positive, always cheering people on. She’s just an overall positive person. So to bring that on to the court, even off the court, she’s just a natural leader. Her positive words have helped us so much with friendships off the court too. She’s amazing.”
Collins said her positive mindset and leadership qualities come to her naturally.
“I’m big on positive reinforcement and positive energy, because I truly believe that the more positive the environment is the better it will be,” she said. “I tend to like to keep motivating my teammates. I don’t like it when they’re down in the dumps or something, so I’ll do anything in my power to make everybody feel happy or motivated or excited.”
Collins’ bubbly personality can be seen by her interactions with teammates and coaches, but it takes a backseat to the show she puts on as a tenacious defender on the court.
“She can just pick you up so quick that you don’t even know what’s happening,” Grizzlies coach Brian Hill said. “She’s in the passing lanes. She’s the quickest person with her feet and hands and reading the ball in the air that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.”
Hill recalled a summer camp at Gonzaga University in 2019 when Collins, then heading into her junior season, matched up will Cashmere’s Hailey Van Lith, who was one of the top recruits in the country for the class of 2020 and is currently playing for the University of Louisville.
Collins raced down the court, closed in on Van Lith and swiped the ball away on a fast break. The ref called a foul on the play, one that Hill wasn’t in agreement with.
“I started to complain a little bit,” Hill said. “He was like. ‘I think she got her.’ And I was like, ‘She didn’t get her. She’s just that quick.’”
She did it two more times. The ref didn’t blow the whistle.
It was one of a few showdowns the two players had at the camp between one-on-one, three-on-three and full-team drills.
“The whole camp turned into the Aaliyah (versus) Van Lith show,” Hill said. “Every time that they matched up … those two just battled. It was just pure competition between the two of them, and (Aaliyah) would always rise to the occasion and just keep going and going.”
Van Lith went on to become Washington’s all-time career scoring leader in girls basketball the following season.
“That experience, I’m so thankful for because I think that it gave me some more confidence in myself that I needed,” Collins said, “and it was cool playing against a D-I athlete that was extremely amazing.”
Collins had Division-I basketball aspirations of her own, and those seemed to be coming to fruition as she held offers from Big Sky Conference schools Eastern Washington University, University of Montana and Montana State University.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit and sent college athletics into disarray. Basketball teams had their chances at an NCAA Tournament appearance taken away at the end of the 2019-20 season, and the following season many teams played less games than a normal season. That led to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes who participated in winter sports during the 2020-21 season, creating a situation where teams were no longer going to have as many scholarships available for incoming players.
“After COVID hit, everything just kind of went downhill,” Collins said. “My offers got pulled, and I was trying to play in a lot of AAU tournaments to try and be seen by colleges. Ultimately, my biggest goal was to go D-I, but at one point I thought that I wasn’t going to get anything.”
A new Division-I offer finally came in December of 2020 through a connection with Smith. Chris Hansen, Smith’s uncle, is the owner of “Elite is Earned,” a basketball tournament and scouting service. He was able to connect Collins with Chicago State University.
It was a great fit for Collins, who said relocating to the other side of the country and experiencing a more diverse area were goals she had.
“The process was a long, stressful and upsetting time,” Collins said, “but I was so glad for it because it all end up working out in the end.”
Collins is joining a college program with a much different history than the one of her high school. Chicago State, which plays in the Western Athletic Conference, has won just four games over the past five seasons.
Next season, the Cougars will have a promising young point guard to help them flip the script.
“I think Aaliyah is going to go to Chicago State and flip that whole program around,” Hill said. “It’s awesome.”