Aaliyah Gayles is cleared and eligible to play basketball for USC more than a year after she was shot at least nine times at a Las Vegas house party in April 2022.
Even when Gayles could hardly walk after the shooting, her return to the basketball court stayed on her mind. And she did so last September, when she first was cleared to train. She redshirted at USC last year, doing rehab on the sidelines as she watched her Trojan teammates put together a solid season, which included an upset of Stanford.
“I could be dropping dimes to my bigs right now. I could be dropping dimes to my shooters,” Gayles told ESPN at the time. “All I want to do is help my teammates. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. Get back on my feet so I can help them for next year.”
It was only a matter of time before she joined them. But it was still a long road back.
“It was never about just go play basketball,” USC athletic trainer Erin Tillman told ESPN. “It was like, just learn how to live first.”
Eventually, she made her way back, joining the team in the weight room and on the court for drills with her teammates. There’s still some hesitancy to her play, and it’s a little bit harder than it used to be.
“It’s like she’s not 100% who she was before, but sometimes I see herself get frustrated and doubt herself,” USC forward Rayah Marshall said. “I’m like, ‘Calm down. The game will come to you. Play your game. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t go overthinking things. It’s just basketball.'”
Still, Gayles will be eligible to play starting on Nov. 6, when No. 21 USC opens its season against No. 7 Ohio State. The game will be played in Las Vegas, Gayles’ hometown. And while she might not make her USC debut in that game, she can see it on the horizon.
“That’s the No. 1 thing on my mind right now,” she told ESPN. “Playing and getting right.”
And her teammates have no doubt that she will.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as resilient,” Marshall said. “She just have this dog in her.”