Aaliyah Patty threw her family a curveball.
As an eighth-grader Patty was a pretty darn good softball player. She also enjoyed volleyball and cheerleading.
"Well, high school started coming around and she was a beast at softball, so we thought she was going to go with softball," said Aaliyah's mother, Lillian Patty. "She was really, really good. She played all year round."
Except somewhere during that school year Patty felt her family's favorite sport calling her.
Convinced to play AAU basketball in middle school by her father, Anthony, Patty found her way to a Lady Lightning practice at Montini when she was in eighth grade, and the steady drumbeat of bouncing basketballs struck a chord.
"When she got to Montini we're thinking, OK, she's going to play everything. She's going to do softball. She's going to do cheer. She's going to do everything," Lillian Patty said. "She goes, Nope, I only want to focus on basketball."
The decision just made sense to Patty.
"I grew up in a family full of basketball," she said, "so it was only right."
It turned out to be a good move for the Broncos senior. It earned her a scholarship to play next year at Ohio State.
It also earned her the Daily Herald's DuPage County All-Area Girls Basketball Captain award.
Putting in time
Despite being 6-foot-3 Patty didn't play varsity basketball right away at Montini.
She scored just 46 points her freshman season, playing mostly on the sophomore team. Sophomore year she found a little more varsity time, but still she was a work in progress. It wasn't until her junior season that Patty made the leap coach Jason Nichols was waiting for.
"As a freshman she just wasn't mature enough, she wasn't ready. ... Physically, mentally was not ready to be a varsity player," Nichols said. "I knew the upside was there, I knew the potential was there. But sometimes it's the old trust the process. While that may be hard for some people -- and I'm sure it was for her and her parents at the time; everybody wants instant success -- she had to go through a little bit of a learning process."
Undeterred, Patty not only waited for her mind and body to grow, she also put in time in the off-season to hone her craft. Freshman and sophomore years, she worked on post moves, as you would expect from a kid her size.
After her junior year it was time to add some versatility to her game, so she worked on her outside shot.
Now the kid who attempted just one 3-pointer her first three seasons has made 39 3-pointers in 106 attempts this season with two games still to play this weekend, starting with Friday's Class 4A semifinal.
When Montini breaks up practices into guards and posts, Patty often starts with the guards before joining the posts.
"She wanted to be good, but I didn't know if she knew what it meant to be good," Nichols said. "A lot of kids struggle a little with what that means, the definition of that. Well, she put the work in and found out what that meant. She's now seeing the benefits of it."
So are Montini's opponents, who have struggled to defend her. Patty still has the post moves to beat even the best high school post defenders. Now she also has a shot you must respect from the 3-point arc, and she has the mobility to pull down the 3-point shot and beat a defender off the dribble to the basket.
"To be great you have to have a lot of abilities and different stuff," Patty said. "Like my post moves were helping, but I know there's a lot of people bigger than me at the college level. I'm going to need more than that."
College recruiters, already attracted by her height and athleticism as an underclassman, saw a more well-rounded player this season.
"She's an incredibly hard worker and a high-character kid," said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff, "and I thought she'd be a good representative of our program on and off the court. Specifically, as a basketball player I love her versatility. She's 6-3, long and athletic. She can play around the basket, and just this year she's really done a great job playing away from the basket."
That work ethic has her mother bursting with pride.
"What's funny is she just got her 1,000th point a couple of weeks ago," Lillian Patty said. "And I said to my husband, Wait a minute. She's got 1,000 points. She's really only been playing junior, senior year. That is amazing. But she stuck with it. She worked hard."
Patty isn't done working yet. She knows she has a lot to do to prepare for college. This summer she plans to work on dribbling, "because when I get to college I'm going to need that some more," Patty said.
A bright future
Nichols has high expectations for Patty in college -- and beyond. Especially if she keeps working.
"If she keeps doing that, I think she can be unbelievable," he said.
"I definitely want to go professional," Patty added. "Overseas, WNBA, whatever. I want to keep doing it as I get older."
That's four years away, though. Her more immediate basketball future lies in Columbus, Ohio.
"I think she can be a great player here," McGuff said. "We have a really fast style of play, and with her speed, quickness, athleticism and ability to play under the basket or on the perimeter, I think she can be really impactful for us."
Which explains Patty's answer to the obvious question.
No, she said with a smile, she's not going back to softball.