Aaronette Vonleh Follows in Brother’s Footsteps in Taking USA Basketball Court
It’s good to have sources with information. Any reporter could tell you that. It’s also handy for young basketball players trying to find a little insight entering unfamiliar territory.
Aaronette Vonleh had just such a source as she prepared this month for her first foray into USA Basketball at the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Vonleh is the youngest sister of Noah Vonleh, the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Noah Vonleh participated in USA Basketball events when he was younger and was able to advise his sister on what to expect from coaches and fellow players and how to succeed. She also has an older sister, Samnell, who played NCAA Division II basketball at the University of Bridgeport.
“Both of them just told me to play how I normally play,” Aaronette Vonleh said. “Don’t focus on the mistakes, just focus on what I can do after that and just leave it all out on the floor.”
Vonleh is uncommonly good for a player going into her junior year in high school. She is 6-foot-3 and can be dominant in the post. ESPN HoopGurlz ranked her the No. 1 center in the nation in the 2021 class and the No. 13 player overall in that recruiting year.
She also was named to the 2018-19 USA Today ALL-USA Oregon Girls Basketball Team following her sophomore season.
Even with those kinds of credentials, a player can feel some butterflies going into a new experience, which Vonleh said was true for her as she prepared for the trials. After being involved in several practices, she was able to judge for herself how she stacked up.
“I think I definitely have a lot of competition,” Vonleh said. “There are girls who are even way taller than me with the same skills or even more skill. So, it’s a challenge but I think I will be OK.”
Vonleh said she relishes the opportunity to play basketball with the USA on the front of her jersey, whether she is simply working on her game in a gym on the campus of the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado, or if she eventually earns a spot on the USA team that will play in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship June 16-22 in Puerto Aysen, Chile.
Only 12 of the 156 young athletes who started trials will eventually make that team. Finalists are expected to be named on May 27, and the roster is expected to be announced on May 31.
“I never expected it,” Vonleh said of being invited to trials by the USA Basketball Women's Developmental National Team Committee. “It was just like a blessing to hear. So, even if at the end of the day I don’t make it, it was worth it to come out and be invited. It was just a blessing itself.”
She was in the fourth grade when she said she first became interested in basketball, but she recognized she might be able to be really good when she was in seventh grade. So, she began taking a much more serious approach to game. Two years later after moving to Portland, Oregon, to follow her brother to the Portland Trail Blazers, she became a standout high school player as a freshman at West Linn High School.
Her brother was traded to the Chicago Bulls in February of her freshman season, but she remained in Portland for her sophomore season, averaging 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, playing mostly as a traditional post.
Vonleh said her brother is probably her biggest influence when it comes to basketball because, “he’s been there, done that.”
When her and her brother are able to spend some time together, he encourages her to expand her game and be able to play on the perimeter and not just with her back to the basket as a traditional post player.
Vonleh said she has seen for herself how being more versatile could help her against players who are equally talented and aggressive.
“At times, it’s overwhelming, but I haven’t really thought about it too much,” Vonleh said of having success so young. “I’m happy for the opportunities. At the same time, I’m grateful that all the hard work I’ve put in over the years is paying off.”