Aaliyah Gayles, who was shot multiple times at a house party in 2022, checked into a basketball game for the first time in 574 days in the fourth quarter of No. 21 USC’s 67-51 win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night.
With 1:40 left in the game, the redshirt freshman entered to a standing ovation from the USC bench and a cheering crowd at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.
Gayles dribbled near half court as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Forward Rayah Marshall picked Gayles up into a celebratory hug as her teammates surrounded her.
“It felt good,” Gayles said to ESPN. “It boosted my confidence a little bit. I feel like I was back to my old self.”
Gayles suffered fractures in all four of her limbs in an April 16, 2022, shooting in North Las Vegas. Doctors counted 18 bullet holes, and Gayles underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage. She had played in the Jordan Brand Classic in Chicago the night before. She signed her national letter of intent from her hospital bed and promised herself she would one day play for the Trojans.
Two months later, she started to learn to walk again. She enrolled at USC for the fall semester a year ago and spent her freshman year undergoing intense rehabilitation.
Gayles returned to the court with USC legend Cheryl Miller in attendance. Earlier in the evening, USC honored the 1983 and 1984 national championship teams. Also in the stands was her father, Dwight.
“It sent chills through my body,” Dwight said to ESPN. “She did it. She finally touched the floor of a USC basketball court.”
Gayles, a 5-foot-9 guard, was the No. 8 recruit in the 2022 class and a McDonald’s All American. As a senior at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas, she averaged 13.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists.
USC (2-0) returns to the court on Monday against Le Moyne.