It’s 11 p.m. on a Saturday, and Ayzhiana Basallo is at Mott Athletics Center. After returning from a disappointing weekend with two losses from the Cal Poly women’s basketball team, the freshman point guard left the team bus and went straight to the basketball court.
A loss to CSUN earlier in the day fresh on Basallo’s mind, she methodically shoots shot, after shot, after shot. Having gone 1-6 from the field against the Matadors, a startlingly low shooting percentage compared to her overall 42 percent average, Basallo was determined to make sure she did better in the next game.
“I just wanted to get back in the gym,” Basallo said. ”It keeps me going, it keeps me on my feet.”
With the gym to herself, Basallo shoots 250 makes, repeats moves to the baskets, and practices ball handling. It’s a familiar routine that the San Francisco native has perfected over the years.
“The work ethic that she’s put in ... sometimes I wonder when she goes to class because I always see her in [Mott],” head coach Faith Mimnaugh said.
Basallo is dedicated. She practices by herself at least once or twice a day nearly every day.
Basallo’s teammates jokingly call her a gym rat.
Her dad describes her as relentless.
Standing at 5 feet 5 inches, it is no secret that Basallo is an undersized player. However, being the shortest player on the Cal Poly team hasn’t stopped her from contributing in a big way. Basallo averages almost eight points in an average 18 minutes per game for the Mustangs, who rank second in the Big West Conference.
“[Basallo] comes in and gives us instant offense,” Mimnaugh said. “Her intelligence on the court, her ball handling, all of it is something that’s beyond where most freshman would be.”
Basallo also shoots 40.8 percent from the three-point line, putting her at sixth in the Big West. As the only freshman point guard entering a Cal Poly roster stacked with seven seniors, Basallo knew she had to impress from the start.
“I knew I had to be a threat,” Basallo said. “I have to score and be a leader … even though I’m a freshman. It’s pretty much the things I’ve been doing all my life.”
“I knew I had to be a threat.”
While growing up in San Francisco, Basallo was exposed to other sports like gymnastics and martial arts. But after seeing her older sister play basketball, she was hooked.
“She would see the difference in the crowd noise,” Ayzhiana’s father Cesar Basallo said. “When you’re at a basketball game, people are going crazy — the fans, the coaches, the players. There’s a lot of excitement. I think she was drawn to that.”
By the end of elementary school, Ayzhiana was taking the sport seriously. She began to work on conditioning, forming the practice routine that she follows today. Ayzhiana’s determination to be the best became clear to her father.
“She’s the one that wanted to go to the gym, she’s the one who wanted to go work out,” Cesar Basallo said. “That’s the difference — when you’re a parent and you have a kid and you have to tell them, to go to practice, to wake up, get your stuff, don’t forget your shoes… she never did that. Everything was ready, and we had to be early.”
Ayzhiana developed her game with Golden City, a youth team in San Francisco. While still in eighth grade, she was matched up against high school students. Senior guard Kelly Wong, also a San Francisco native, remembers noticing Basallo on the court.
“She had quick handles, she’s really fast, she has good court vision,” Wong said. “You could really tell she loves the game.”
Before her sophomore year of high school, Ayzhiana was already capturing the attention of college coaches.
“I started getting phone calls at the end of the summer from college coaches … at that time she was a 5’3”, 5’4” backup point guard, impressing Division I college coaches,” head coach of Golden City Armando Pazos said.
Already defying expectations, Ayzhiana had her mind set on making an impact at the Division I level. To achieve that, she knew she couldn’t let up. In her last year with Golden City, Pazos, who describes himself as a “tough coach”, considered taking it easier on her.
“She didn’t want that,” Pazos said. “She wanted me to keep pushing her because she wanted to continue to get better.”
Currently a recreation parks and administration major, Ayzhiana signed her letter of intent to play for Cal Poly in November 2016.
“It was an accomplishment,” Ayzhiana said. “I try to be someone that people can look up to. Just that my height doesn’t really matter, as long as you put in the work, and got a big heart.”
Ayzhiana’s first game as a Mustang was a homecoming, as the team traveled to play the University of San Francisco at the War Memorial Sobrato Center. The gym was filled with memories for Basallo, it was where she played her high school’s rival when she attended St. Ignatius Prep.
Despite being 230 miles away from Mott, Cal Poly had supporters in the stands. Ayzhiana’s family, friends, and former teammates showed up in force.
Ayzhiana Basallo has multiple ways to find her shot and score for the Mustangs.
She was named the 2017-18 Big West Sixth Woman of the Year for her impressive point scoring off the bench in her first year with the Mustangs. Basallo is the first player in Cal Poly history to receive this honor.
“It was a pretty surreal experience,” Cesar said. “As soon as she came off the bench ... a lot of the people we know were going crazy.”
Ayzhiana entered the game late in the first quarter, immediately making her presence known just 10 seconds later with a jumper for her first points as a Mustang.
“I just wanted to come out with fire.”
“I just wanted to come out with fire,” Ayzhiana said, “I wanted to show everyone that this team is going to win.”
Ayzhiana recorded 11 points and six assists in 20 minutes in what was ultimately a loss to the home team. Since then, Ayzhiana has continued to contribute to the Mustangs’ offense. Early this January, she recorded a career-high 21 points.
"She’s like a little silent assassin," Wong said. "Before you know it, she’s at like, 15 points already.”
Mimnaugh echoed Wong’s sentiments, even predicting that Ayzhiana could one day end up with a plaque of her own hanging in the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Ayzhiana is someone that can light up the gym,” Mimnaugh said. “I certainly think by the time that Ayzhiana graduates she’ll be one of the top ten scorers in Cal Poly history.”
It was the endless days and nights of practicing for hours on end that brought the undersized Filipino American to Cal Poly.
“I probably don’t tell her enough of how proud I am of her, it’s such a big deal that she’s made it this far,” Pazos said. “But I know she’s going to go so much further than this.”
Ayzhiana hopes she can be an inspiration, especially for kids growing up in the Bay Area.
“She does take pride in it — you don’t see too many [Filipino American] players at the Division I level,” Cesar said. “Especially from the Bay Area.”
For the current players at her former San Francisco stomping grounds, Ayzhiana serves as an iconic figure that many can relate to.
“The younger girls in my program look up to her,” Pazos said. “They all say they want to be like her, especially her being 5’5” and an Asian player. She’s a huge inspiration.”
Ayzhiana helps Pazos and her former club with training the next generation of young basketball players in the Bay Area. She aims to encourage others like her — girls with a passion for basketball that are willing to put in the work — to keep going.
“Keep working because something is going to happen,” Ayzhiana said. “Don’t listen to anybody, just believe in yourself. Believe in the process, believe in what you’re doing. Let all of the hate fuel you.”
Now, Ayzhiana is focused on the next step for her team: winning the Big West tournament. In a preseason poll, the Cal Poly team was projected to finish sixth in the conference, a massive underestimation of a team that’s now poised for a deep playoff run.
“This year I want to turn it around,” Ayzhiana said. “We just want to show everyone that that’s not us, and eventually, game-by-game, to make it to the championship.”
The dream of winning a championship with the Mustangs is what keeps Ayzhiana coming back to the gym twice a day, in her relentless routine of practicing shot, after shot, after shot.