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Kiki Rice, basketball’s Class of 2022 grapple with Aaliyah Gayles shooting

Aaliyah Gayles played in the Jordan Brand Classic Game a day before the incident. (Chris Kohley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

First, there was shock.

Just hours earlier, they had all been together in Chicago, at the Jordan Brand Classic game, a showcase for the top 26 basketball players in the class of 2022. At the center of it all, as is often the case at these gatherings among the nation’s elite, was Aaliyah Gayles, the Spring Valley High School (Nevada) point guard, USC commit and owner of the group’s most contagious smile.

Then came fear.

The news spread on social media: Gayles had been shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Her condition was unclear. The four- and five-star recruits bounced into each others’ Instagram DMs, frantically trading what little information they had. It was Sunday night.

“When you see multiple gunshot wounds, you don’t know,” Sidwell Friends (D.C.) point guard Kiki Rice said. “You assume it’s bad.”

“It just broke my heart,” Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.) wing Ayanna Patterson said.

“This can’t be real. Not Aaliyah, not Aaliyah,” Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.) forward Maya Nnaji said she thought.

Finally, as the school week progressed, there came some relief.

Gayles had been shot 10 times, including eight times in the legs and ankles, but her injuries were not life-threatening. She underwent three surgeries and is expected to make a “full recovery.” Doctors were hopeful Gayles would be able to learn how to walk again from rehabilitation.

Her basketball future, however, is less certain.

What happened to Gayles at a Las Vegas house party on Saturday night will take time to process, for Gayles, her family and her loved ones. Among those impacted are the girls from across the country who’ve gotten to know the springy guard over the years, who’ve been her direct competitors for awards, rankings and scholarship offers.

Instead of enemies, they’ve become friends, forming a basketball sisterhood whose bond was strengthened at the Jordan game and the McDonald’s All-American Game, also in Chicago, on March 29. Gayles, with her flashy handles and flashier dance moves, had become the group’s purveyor of joy, on and off the court.

So, for the girls who’ve come to know Gayles, the past week was a rollercoaster of emotions: Shock. Fear. Relief. And something else less quantifiable, but just as visceral.

“It makes me want to go out there and compete even harder,” Nnaji said, “for her.”

***

The moment that best encapsulates Gayles, her friends said, came on March 28, the evening before the McDonald’s game. The 24 girls had just been awarded their All-American rings, and were being called to load back on the bus for the hotel.

Gayles had another idea.

She saw a DJ and a dance floor. It was time, she decided, to dance.

“She was dancing so hard,” Nnaji said. “She was going crazy!”

With her “West Coast flavor,” as Patterson put it, Gayles urged the rest of the girls to join her on the floor. Soon she and Janiah Barker, the 6-foot-2 forward from Montverde (Fla.) committed to Texas A&M, were sweating through their white T-shirts, and Iman Shumpert, the NBA shooting guard from 2011-21, was dancing by their side.

Rice, winner of the JWS Player of the Year award and several other national honors, is the most celebrated name in the class. But Rice, who does not identify as a “good dancer,” was not too proud to admit she could learn something from Gayles.

“We were joking about how she needed to teach me how to dance,” Rice said.

Rice first met Gayles, she said, in eighth grade, at the Blue Star 30 camp in Las Vegas. Same with Patterson, who recalled that Gayles took control of an impromptu dance circle at the camp despite being among the youngest players in attendance.

“She wants everyone to feel as happy as she is,” Nnaji said. “She’s always trying to get other people to smile.”

That also applies to the court, where Gayles has built a reputation among her peers for her ankle-breaking handles and calls for the crowd to make noise. In a practice ahead of the McDonald’s game, she successfully threw a between-the-legs lob to Patterson. The same behavior from a lesser-liked player might evoke bitterness, but not Gayles, who averaged 13.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists for Spring Valley this past season.

On Monday night, a local parent set up a GoFundMe page to help Gayles’ family pay for medical expenses. Several of the players Gayles has met on the national scene from the class of 2022, Patterson said, donated $22 each as an act of solidarity.

Gayles will probably spend about two months in a wheelchair, former Spring Valley coach Billy Hemberger (he left to take the head job at Liberty this month) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But Gayles was in good spirits, he said.

Still, questions remain about her future, as well as what happened Saturday night. Her father, Dwight, wrote in a since-deleted tweet that Gayles normally doesn’t attend house parties.

“For the record my kid hates house parties,” he wrote. “Anybody that knows her knows that. She was simply returning a favor to a friend that came to her birthday party and within (minutes) of being there this happened.”

It’s all still a little difficult for Rice, a UCLA signee, to wrap her head around. Will she ever get to play against Gayles in Pac-12 rivalry games, as they had talked about?

Rice, Gayles and a few other girls rode on the same bus to the airport Saturday morning. Gayles told Rice she was going to head straight to the gym from the airport. She didn’t hear about a party.

The next day, it was Rice who told Patterson what had happened. Patterson, who is bound for UConn, did not have a workout scheduled for Monday, but after school she hopped in her car and drove 30 minutes to her father’s facility, the McMillan Park Community Center in Fort Wayne.

Patterson threw up shot after shot, seemingly alone. Though the ball was flying off Patterson’s fingertips, she felt like someone else was taking the shots.

“This,” Patterson said, “is her moment.”

Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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