Each summer I look forward to seeing the new players, seeing how long it takes me to identify who is whom, and watching their first interaction as college players. Every season it’s a little different. Different personalities, different skills. And every once in a while a freshman does not seem like a freshman. A little more confident, a little less confused about where to be in different situations. A little more vocal. This season, ALL the freshmen look less freshman-like than in many years. But still one can be a bit more so.
A few years ago one new player walked up to me after the first practice I saw her at and said, “Hi! I’m Nike. You should interview me.” Well, I thought, that’s unique! This summer I found out is was unusual, but maybe not unique. First practice in early summer and after practice up walks Aniyah, and in almost the same words introduces herself, shakes my hand, and starts to talk as if I knew her for the last couple years. Making a similar impression as Nike did is not a bad way to start connecting with the fans.
Aniyah also stands out in another way. In the end-of-practice sprints I have been so used to Shai winning every spring by a few yards or more I had stopped really watching the front of the pack. Then, as they were approaching the finish line, I noticed that Shai was not in front. Who is this other player? Number 12. Second heat–same result. Again Aniyah beat Shai. Shai didn’t look pleased, and won the 3rd heat. But the gauntlet had been put down–there was someone in the same class of speed as Shai. Since then they have pushed each other every time I have seen practice, and that has to be a good thing for everyone.
Joe: When we talked earlier you mentioned you ran track growing up—why did you eventually pick basketball over track?
Aniyah: I was using track as a way for me to get into shape for basketball, but I was seeing more opportunities in basketball than track. It’s hard to get scholarship offers out of track because it’s so many people doing the same exact thing. In basketball you can display your skill set where in track it’s just running. So, I started of using track to get in shape for basketball. And then at my former high school they decided I had to choose one or the other because AAU and track were at the same time–I had to be at basketball practice and I had to be at track practice so. I had more offers coming out of basketball than I did in track, so I decided to go with the one I had more offers and scholarships in. If I still had the chance to do both, I would.
Joe: You are obviously from a basketball family, was there any push from the family about what way to go?
Aniyah: No, there really wasn’t. I used to dance and do figure skating. We were able to test out a few things before we chose basketball. I just knew I wasn’t good in soccer or softball. I was always competitive. There was always a competition with me and my sister. It was a friendly competition. She played basketball before me, and I thought I could play basketball against her. That’s how it happened. My parents said that what ever we chose, they would support us in even if we chose school. Just make sure you do something good with it.
Joe: Once you decided on basketball, why UNM?
Aniyah: I chose UNM because I felt I was really wanted by them, and it felt like a family. I didn’t really get a chance to visit here but there was a lot of over the phone conversations. They constantly kept in touch with me. I could see my role here–what I could do and what I am capable of doing. I really just love the family feel that I got from the players. I got to talk to them over Twitter. They gave me the real situation and that was exactly what I wanted from the program. And you guys have my major: I was supposed to do Sports Communications, but I think I’m going to do Multimedia Journalism. I want to become a sideline reporter.
Joe: You said you like the way the program is. What are the strengths you bring to the program, and what do you need to improve on?
Aniyah: I would say that the strengths that I bring are my energy, my effort, and my leadership in a way. It’s not just play the same way that everybody else is but my high energy and effort is always there. This is a fast-paced team, I’m a fast-paced player. I knew that they would better use me in the way that I needed to be used, like shooting.
What I need to work on is mainly a lot of shooting. That, and knowing my spots on defense. So, they are making me better in that way.
Joe: There are very few freshmen that come in knowing where to be on defense. Offensively, in your highlight tapes from high school they mostly show you driving right past people and laying it in. I assume that’s what was expected of you in high school and that’s where your skills were best used; at UNM it seems they are also having you bring the ball up some.
Aniyah: Coach still wants me to be just as aggressive as I was in high school, driving by people. Any chance I get, my first option is attacking the basket. They are trying to bring me up as a true one guard, so, my goal is still the same: be aggressive, do not be passive. Every day he tells me, “Do not be passive!”, “Do not be passive!. We recruited you for that reason, you’re aggressive, and we want you to stay that way”. He reminds me every day be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive.
Joe: Tell us a little bit about your interests outside of basketball.
Aniyah: I like reading poetry books. I like plants and my cat. Napping is a big one. I like exploring Albuquerque, going on drives like yesterday. I like to go on drives and take an exit and just see where it takes me. It is a beautiful place. I like nature and I love hiking.
Joe: What have you seen out here so far that you say, “Oh, I like that”?
Aniyah: Balloon Fiesta. I’ve not been there, but I’ve seen pictures and I keep seeing them when I’m driving anywhere. So that’s what I’m really intrigued by just because I’ve never been up close to a hot air balloon. I want to get in one. I’ve also seen hot water springs that I want to visit. And there is a view point I’m not sure where it’s at, but you can see all of Albuquerque. So, I’d like to go up there to see the view and eat.
Joe: Probably the best view is from the top of the tram.
Aniyah: I haven’t been up there, and I really want to go. Do you have to drive, or can you take the tram?
Joe: You can do either. Or you can hike. It’s about 7 ½ miles up. I’ve hiked it a few times.
So, what do you see as your role on the team?
Aniyah: I see myself being at the one guard position, caring my team with me. Just kind of being a leader, giving my all every opportunity I have. They are looking for a point guard to play defense and I’m hoping that I can fulfill that role because coach knows my skill set and what I bring to the table. I also know my own skill set and what I bring to the table. So, what he’s asking for isn’t a lot. So. I’m hoping to be a point guard that can play the defense and control my team in times when it gets kind of chaotic–be able to settle them down and run what we need to run. It’s really just being a leader. Bringing my team all together and being sure that we gel together.
Joe: You’ve mentioned leadership now at least three times. It’s tough to be a leader as a freshman. How do you go about that?
Aniyah: I won’t say I’m all the way there yet. When I see that someone is not getting an point but I know it, I’m going to step in and say, “Hey, here’s the spot that you are supposed to be in”, but I try to approach it in a way that I would want to be approached. Not aggressive, but calmly. Just not being overly aggressive, because if you are overly aggressive as a freshman they might think I’m trying to take over. I don’t want to be that way at all. I know my role and I know my place. So, if I see a mistake, I want to hold people accountable for their mistakes and I hold myself accountable as well for my mistakes that happen.
Or just even bringing energy–I feel like being a leader you need a lot of energy. I bring energy to the table and cheering on my teammates from the sideline. And when they are making a play, giving them the props for making that play. So, little steps at a time. I text in group chat, if I had a bad day, I apologize saying “Hey, I’m sorry. I’ll be better tomorrow”. Just accountability on both ends.
Joe: I imagine it’s relatively easy to talk to another guard, but I also imagine it’s hard to really understand what the posts are doing, because that’s not your knowledge set.
Aniyah: When we learn offense and defense, as a point guard you have to learn every position. Where you’re supposed to be and everyone else. So, if I know that this post is supposed to be here or there but is in the wrong position I would just say, “Hey I’m not sure, but I think you are supposed to be here”. If I’m wrong, I apologize. You can’t say “Hey, you’re supposed to be there”, unless you actually know. As a freshman I’m still learning. In a couple of plays I do know where people are supposed to be so I might say, “You’re supposed to be here”. They never respond to me in a negative way which is very encouraging. They’ll say, “Okay I’ve got it”, or “No, I’m supposed to be there”. So they help me help them.
Joe: The team has a variety of personalities out there, you’ve got people who are a bit aggressive on the court, but the personalities seem to be relatively low-key off it.
Aniyah: That is one thing I do like. I like when everyone is aggressive and we’re going after it and everyone competes in practice, but we put it all behind us when we go to the locker room. Everyone is all fine and dandy. We are never really aggressive with each other which is very helpful when we’re trying to gel a team together. We are learning each other’s personalities. We’ve been together since the summer, so we kind of know how everyone is going to respond to everything. I think we are coming together really well. I love that we have so many different personalities: we have shy ones; we’ve got loud ones. We’ve got goofy and everything’s dramatic; a little bit of everything. It’s really fun to be with everyone.
Joe: And now the important question: How are you going to deal with Shai when you beat her in a race?
Aniyah: Actually, we race quite often. No one really knows. We’ll just whisper, let’s go. Sometimes, I beat her, sometimes she beats me. Afterwards we kind of lay down and do what track players do: we put our feel on the wall and whisper: you got me this time, or I got you this time. It’s always a friendly competition and I love it. For some odd reason, we always wind up next to each other when we’re running. We’re always pushing each other even if we’re not racing and I know she’s having a bad day and I’m ahead of her, I’ll say “Shai let’s go, let’s go”. I know her potential, and she knows mine. Pushing each other is only going to make us better and more conditioned. So, when I beat her, we always do the same old thing: feet up on the wall, let the lactic acid flow down.
Joe: Since you’ve got the mike, anything else you want to tell people?
Aniyah: I just hope you guys are ready for the season because I know we are. We’re ready for The Pit to be full of fans. The super seniors want fans there and we’re super excited to put on a show for you guys. Thank you for making me feel loved at UNM already.
Joe: Good that is the intent. Thank you for taking the time.
Aniyah: Of course, thank you.