When Myers Park junior guard Aliyah Mazyck steps onto the court, it’s pure magic.
She has everything coaches want in a player – speed, skill, a high basketball IQ and confidence, making her a crucial piece of Myers Park’s success. Her aggressive and fearless nature along with her defensive prowess have made her one of the top recruits from the class of 2015 – she’s ranked 37th in the nation by Fullcourt.com – and a top recruiting target.
It’s easy to see why. Mazyck is averaging 18 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and also averaging 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 2.9 assists, scoring in double digits in every game so far this season.
Under Mazyck’s leadership and combined with the talents of national recruit Rydeiah Rogers, Davidson commit Saadia Timpton and junior Morgan Uptegraff, the Mustangs have surged to No. 12 in Maxpreps.com’s latest national poll.
And with the veteran coaching experience of Barbara Nelson, who’s in her second season at Myers Park after successful tenures at Providence Day and Wingate University, the Mustangs are flourishing. They’ve accumulated a 79-3 record in the last three seasons, with one regular-season loss during the last two years.
But for Mazyck, success hasn’t come without challenges.
She comes from a family of athletes – her mother played softball at UNC while her father ran track at UNC Charlotte. She had five uncles who were all basketball stars in high school helping her learn the game from a young age.
They didn’t take it easy on her, either, she said. With their tutelage, she quickly developed a thick skin and mental toughness by playing pickup from “sunup to sundown” and competing on AAU teams. Mazyck knew basketball was going to be her life by the time she entered high school.
“The basketball part of my life fell into place for me once I got to high school,” Mazyck said. “When I was a freshman, I remember putting basketball first and thinking, ‘I have to go to college for basketball so school can wait.’ I put school in the background. Everyone knows that I’m Aliyah and I have to be good at basketball so that was a priority.”
Her passion for the game was evident. Mazyck was talented enough to start but was the first player off the Mustang bench her freshman year when they went 31-1, losing in the state tournament semi-finals.
She averaged 10 points per game as a freshman with 3.3 steals and 3.1 rebounds, and was already generating interest from top Division 1 programs. She upped her averages to 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds last season.
But even with her success on the court, Mazyck recalled that she still had some growing up to do. School wasn’t a priority and she said she was more concerned with getting laughs and being the class clown than she was with performing up to her ability.
When Nelson entered the scene last season, Mazyck started to realize that if she wanted to get to the next level, her academic life and her mental maturity would have to improve.
With Nelson pushing Mazyck to develop leadership skills off the court as well as on, she slowly started becoming a better student and better role model for her teammates and classmates. Now, Mazyck said, it’s like she’s a different person from the girl she was as a freshman.
“I’ve definitely matured a lot since then,” she said. “Everyone tells me that I’ve matured. When you see yourself maturing, you can feel it within yourself. I’m proud of who I’m becoming and I like it. When you mature like I have, you realize the stupid mistakes you made before. I thought the stupid, dumb mistakes were funny and being a class clown was funny, but I started to see that that’s not who I should be. Now, I come to school, get my work done and call it a day.”
Nelson has witnessed Mazyck’s transformation from a lackadaisical sophomore to a focused junior who’s improved on the court but also dramatically transformed off it.
“Aliyah has certainly grown,” Nelson said. “She’s grown as a young woman, as an athlete and she’s growing as a student. She’s worked really hard for me this year. Last year, she worked off and on in the gym when it suited her. This year, she works every day. She worked hard this summer, she worked hard in the fall and she’s working hard in the season. She’s working much harder in the classroom, which is good, too.”
Nelson and Mazyck have developed a special relationship that’s obvious to see through their interactions and back-and-forth friendly banter. But they both recall that it wasn’t always that way and it was Mazyck’s spike in maturity that resulted in the two connecting with a sense of mutual respect that wasn’t present last
“It was tough at the beginning,” Mazyck said, before pausing in the middle of speaking to gather herself as tears welled up in her eyes. “But now, I love her to death. I can truthfully say that I love her. She’s a great coach and an even better person.”
“Look at me getting all teary-eyed talking about her,” she added, laughing. “She’s helped me in school, outside of school and in every way possible. She’s shown me that she’s always going to be there if I need her, no matter what it is.”
Nelson knew that it was going to be an adjustment process for her new team when she first started as Myers Park’s coach last season. After their 31-1 run in the 2011-12 season, which also resulted in a second-round state playoff loss, she expected a little resentment from a Mustang squad hesitant to welcome a new face after their otherwise successful season ended abruptly.
But it wasn’t long before Mazyck and her teammates realized Nelson knew what she was doing and wanted to continue the success of girls basketball at Myers Park. This year, it’s been Mazyck that’s stepped up to support Nelson and her system.
“One of the things that’s not different about Aliyah that I think is true of society in general is that people don’t want to know what you know until they know how much you care,” Nelson said. “Last year, I think she really wanted to know if I cared about her and the other girls, as well. She wanted to know if I wanted good things for her and the team, she wanted to know if I was going to be consistent and she wanted to know if I was coming back. Once those questions were answered, then it became easier for her to realize that I’m not her enemy, I’m her ally. That’s what I want to be.”
Now, the sharp-shooting, multi-dimensional guard is looking to continue her team’s success on the court, keep up her dedication in the classroom and continue to respect the leadership of her coach. If all of that stays in focus, Mazyck said a state championship is just around the corner.
And this team has all the facets that make up a state title team – a talented, deep roster that plays together with speed and skill, an experienced coach with one of the winningest records in the state and seven state championships to her credit, along with the drive and mental focus to prove to the state that they’re the best of the best.
“Everyone says we’re overrated and that we’re not even good because we haven’t won any state championships,” Mazyck said. “They say we’re always No. 1 but we can’t win. We’re used to that. But when you think about it, we walked into the season with a chip on our shoulder because they said we couldn’t do it. This year, we’re proving that we can. This year is the year.”
Regardless of a Mustang state title, the opportunities for Mazyck’s future in basketball are seemingly endless. Nelson said the phone constantly rings with interested college coaches, and as one of the best shooting guards in the state – and the nation, for that matter – Mazyck has what it takes to make her college basketball dream a reality.
“The world is before her,” Nelson said. “She has to decide what she wants in life and who’s going to get the best out of her. There are a lot of great things she can do and they’re all within her grasp. She just has to grab on and run with it.”