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Dec. 8, 2014

Aliyah Huland El has been around the game of basketball since she was born. Her father, Rahim, scored over 1,000 points and had over 500 rebounds in his collegiate career as a University of Vermont Catamount and made sure his daughter was exposed to the sport at a very early age.

“I have baby pictures of me holding a stuffed ball, that’s how far it goes back,” Huland El said. “I started playing when I was three or four when I was in the gym with my dad. I would go with him when he was coaching a boys’ youth team, just dribbling and playing with a ball in the corner. I realized that I truly loved the game when I was in the seventh grade, which was the first year I started watching Kevin Durant play. I wanted to try to mimic his moves and really studied how he worked out.”

If Huland El inherited basketball skills from her father, she inherited speed from her mother, Leslie-Ann, who was a track and field star in high school.

“I ran track since I was in kindergarten,” Huland El recalled. “I used to run the short distance and then in middle school, I started running the 200 and the 400. Later, I did field events. In high school, I specialized in field events and ended up being a champion in the high jump, triple jump, got second place in the long jump and was part of a 4×100 hurdles shuffle championship team. There were a couple of conference championships, a couple of county championships, some state sectional titles and then I finished in the top-five at the Meet of Champs.”

Though she racked up the championship hardware in track meets and set the Randolph High School record in the triple jump with a mark of 38’1 ¼”, her basketball tallies were even more impressive. In her senior season, Huland El led all players in the state of New Jersey, scoring 810 points. She finished her prep career as Morris County’s all-time leading scorer with 2,286 points, averaging 21.2 points per game in her four varsity seasons.

“I had a lot of high-scoring games at Randolph High, but the one I remember the most vividly was the county sectional finals against West Morris,” Huland El said. “Every time we played them, it was a competitive game and that year we had lost to them twice already. As a competitor, I didn’t want that to happen again and I wanted to be a county champion, and they were standing in front of me. So I figured that I had to do what I could. I scored 51 points in that game. If you had asked me halfway through the third quarter how many points I had scored, I would not have been able to tell you. I was just trying to make sure that we were winning. They would score and then I’d come down and I was telling me team `we need to get this win,’ so then I would score. We ended up losing by one in overtime, 66-65. That game still haunts me. I hate losing.”

Huland El’s determination and focus on winning happened off the court as well. She and her father worked together to create a training regimen that had her working out, either taking shots or working on conditioning, an extra two hours or so per day, a work ethic that she continues to this day.

With those kind of time demands, it would be easy to get sucked into a world where nothing else existed but basketball. Huland El, however, makes time to embrace some of her other interests.

“When I was younger, I was really into the arts and loved painting and sketching,” Huland El said. “Drawing something that is on my mind as it just flows through my fingers. One of the pieces I am most proud of I did when I was in seventh grade. I was going through a body change and my mind was starting to change and I felt I needed to do something to capture that. So I had a pastel painting with a play on words that said in cursive `just be’ and then `YOU’ in all caps followed by `nique’. That was my favorite piece that I have done because that is how I am. I really think it is important to be yourself and be comfortable in your own skin.”

These days, the rigors of practice, extra shooting and studying keep her from doing much more than doodling, but she has found another outlet for her creativity.

“I’m really into fashion now,” Huland El said. “My style is kind of different from everyone else’s. I like being trendy and combining different looks. Whatever appeals to my eye is what I am going to do. One of my favorite outfits is a combination of a sweater that my mom bought my dad in the 90’s, so it is kind of vintage, that is maroon with stencilized geometric figures on it. I wear it with these H&M coated leggings and then my black, shiny Doc Martins.”

While dressed in classic orange and blue with a matching cloth headband, Huland El has been one of the first off the bench for the Cavaliers this season, averaging 4.8 points in 16.3 minutes per game, including sinking a three-pointer in her collegiate debut against Ohio State. After six months on campus, working with the coaching staff and jelling with her teammates, Huland El is getting more comfortable in the Cavaliers’ system and adjusting to the higher intensity level of college basketball.

“Before I came down to Charlottesville, my dad reminded me that above else, not matter how tough things might get at times, that I still love the game and that is why I play,” Huland El said. “He also told me that, at the same time, this is a business for me, the University, the coaches and everyone who is there so I can’t take anything lightly. He explained to me that it is going to be difficult and there are going to be times when I won’t want to wake up at 5:30 in the morning, but I still will do it because I love the sport and I love my team and I want to make this the best team possible.”

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