FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Bill Engle reads off Aari McDonald's points per game from a stat book in 2013. The former Bullard High girls basketball coach first saw Aari play at Bruce Bowen's basketball camp in Fresno.
"I always remember him telling me, 'Man you're going to be really good.' And then somehow, I ended up playing for him my freshman year at Bullard."
That freshman season, Aari and the Knights competed in a big high school basketball tournament called the Antioch West Coast Jamboree.
"We played some tough competition up there, and all the players and parents from the teams we played there all were just saying, where is this young lady going to college next year, what D1 school is she going to," Engle said. "We said, hold on, she's just a freshman. They could not believe it, they were dumbfounded."
McDonald spent the next three years playing for Brookside Christian in Stockton and was ranked as the 7th best point guard in the country. She chose to attend the University of Washington but transferred to Arizona her sophomore season. After sitting out one year due to the redshirt rule, she has become one of the top college players in the nation.
"I just think of things that people tell me I can't do it and okay, I'll show them," she said. "Growing up, my parents always told me to have a strong mindset. Sports or not, you have to be strong-minded. I think that's what stuck with me as I got older; I have thick skin, I can take whatever comes my way."
What's come Aari's way is national attention. She is the reigning defensive Pac-12 player of the year, she won the 2020 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, and holds the longest active streak in D1 for both men and women at 79 straight games in double figures.
"I watched her play against Oregon on TV, I saw the same Aari that played for us," Engle said. "The same skill set was there, the driving to the basket, left-side throwing up the ball and getting the and-1. That was her trademark and you'll see it over and over again."
The Fresno native is the only player in Pac-12 history to lead the conference in scoring and steals twice. The Wildcats are ranked 10th in the country and are tied for first in league play. Aari had the opportunity to go pro last season but decided to stay one more year with her teammates.
"A lot of them haven't made the tournament," she said. "I got a taste of that my freshman year at Washington, making the Sweet Sixteen. A lot of them haven't had a chance. I wanted to come back and do something special for the program. They haven't been to the tournament in a decade, maybe two. I wanted to make some noise for this program and leave a legacy. Take my teammates somewhere they've never been."
Aari's main focus is to make it to the Big Dance, but she has a lot to look forward to once the season ends. The senior got engaged last year to Central's Devon Brewer and is projected to be taken No.2 overall in the WNBA draft.
Coming for a big basketball family, one of five siblings, she says she'll be the first to turn pro.
"It's surreal to think it's finally happing in a couple of months, a little girl from Fresno making things happen," she said. "I think it will be big for the city, too. You don't have a lot of female basketball players going pro, and it speaks volumes, and I'm just really blessed."
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