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Wells getting to bottom of career

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Collins forward Aaliyah Wells has built quite a resume at Shelby County and Collins high schools. She has a few more games to extend her legacy.

By Josh Cook

Aaliyah Wells has set the bar high at Collins High School.

When her basketball career comes to an end this month or next, Wells, a 5-foot-10 senior forward, will hold just about every record – including leading scorer and leading rebounder – in the brief history of the Titans’ program.

The home stretch begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, when Wells and three of her classmates will be honored on “Senior Night” before Collins faces Gallatin County. 

“It’s been an absolute pleasure and honor to watch her grow the last five years,” Titans Coach Phillip Conder said.

But it’s been a fast five years for Wells, who played on the varsity at Shelby County as an eighth-grader and freshman before suiting up at Collins for her final three seasons after the Shelby split.

“I can’t believe it’s almost over,” she said recently.

It may be hard to believe, but Wells’ hoops career – which she said began in the Simpsonville Parks & Rec League – was almost over before it ever began.

“I always wanted to be a cheerleader, but I ended up being a basketball player in middle school,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Wells, whose mother Zenobia May played at Shelby County in the late 1980s, was excelling. She was brought up to the varsity by then-Rockets Coach Sally Zimmerman as an eighth-grader.

“Coach Z told me, ‘Aaliyah has all the tools to be a phenomenal basketball player. She’s got the body, and she can do it all – pass, dribble and shoot,’” recalled Conder, then Shelby County’s junior varsity coach.

Wells averaged around 3 points per game on the varsity as an eight-grader, elevating expectations for her high school career. Before her freshman season, Conder, then beginning his first year as the Rockets head coach, sat down with Wells and asked her what type of goals she had for herself during the next four years.

All she mentioned, Conder remembers, were team objectives.

“She said she wasn’t worried about individual goals at all,” Conder said. “She just told me, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ She wasn’t worried a lot about individual stats.”

Her freshman season Wells put up some very impressive statistics, averaging 11.9 points and 11.3 rebounds for the Rockets, and hit the game-winning free throws with 1 second left to beat South Oldham in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament.

Then came the opening of Collins, where Wells continued to improve, averaging 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 16.4 and 10 as a junior.

“When she came up, she was basically a slasher,” Conder said. “We’ve worked on extending her range, and now she can knock [the] three[-pointer] down. She’s got the best pull-up jump shot in the region, and she uses the glass. She’s a very fundamental player.”

Wells’ penchant for using the backboard, though, isn’t the only reason why you might also consider her a “throwback” player.

“The best thing about Aaliyah is she’s very coachable,” Conder said. “You usually don’t see your best players in this day and age being that way.

“She’s never once shut down on me. She’s always played the game as hard as she could. She’s not a vocal kid, but she can lead by example.”

Indeed, Conder believes Wells’ biggest contribution to the Titans (12-11) this season may not come in games. 

“These younger players get to see her and see what she does every day in practice,” he said. “For them to see that day in, and day out, to see what it takes to be the best player on the floor and what it takes to be a good leader, she’s setting a real good example.”

So far this season Wells is setting quite an example for a relatively young Titans team. She is averaging 18.9 points and nine rebounds, and in Monday night’s big, 51-44 victory at Franklin County, she scored 18 points and snared 19 rebounds.

“When she’s on, she’s as good as anybody in this region,” Conder said. 

That’s why Conder said he’s unsure as to why Wells, who has more than 1,600 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career, wasn’t heavily recruited by Division I schools.

“I don’t understand how a girl of her ability could go under the radar,” he said. “Not a lot of teams have seen her.”

One of the ones that did, though, was Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College. Wells orally committed to that school late last month.

“If she goes there and has two good years, takes care of things academics wise, she possibly could go to a Division One school, or D two, or NAIA,” Conder said.

But first things first. Wells still has some time left in her high school career.

Following Thursday’s game against Gallatin, the Titans host Bethlehem at 1 p.m. Saturday before road games at Spencer and Nelson counties on Feb. 13 and 15 to close out the regular season. Then Collins will host the 30th District Tournament.

That gives Wells time to raise the bar even higher.