By Kreylynn Johnson
It’s hard for junior AJ Dela Cruz to walk. It’s hard to watch her walk.
But athletes like AJ are not just an ACL. She isn’t the shimmy-after-a-3-pointer braggart. If anything, she’s too humble.
At the state basketball tournament, she hobbled off the bench to give her teammates water. At the basketball awards banquet head coach Kelly Smith said that AJ’s basketball ability is just one-tenth of how great she is as a person.
She mentors the freshmen, she brings lumpia to her coaches, and she doesn’t just wear Jordans, she donates them.
AJ’s family is originally from the Philippines, however she was born in Los Angeles, California. She is the only one from her family to play high school basketball.
“There’s so much more to basketball though…and that’s basketball shoes,” said Dela Cruz. For every game of AJ’s basketball career, she has only worn Jordans. Most kids sell their hardly used shoes on websites like Ketchikan Sale Cycle, but AJ trades in her old J’s for something much more rewarding than money.
“When I grow out of them, I send them to the Philippines. They normally go to my younger cousins there, because they don’t have access to shoes like we do here in the U.S,” said Dela Cruz.
AJ frequently gets new pairs of Jordans, so she is unable to wear all of them as much as she’d like to before she grows out of them. Every time she gets a new pair, she gives a pair away.
“People think getting hand-me-down shoes isn’t that big of a deal here, but you can see how valuable a nice pair of shoes is to them by their friends comments on social media like, ‘Woah, dude hook me up’ It’s nice that I can give them that joy,” said Dela Cruz about gifting her shoes.
Her admiration for Jordans basketball shoes could actually be considered a healthy obsession and it all started before she can remember.
“My first pair of shoes was a pair of baby Jordans,” said Dela Cruz.
Who is to blame for AJ’s shoe obsession? The same people who are to blame for every teenagers problems – their parents.
“It’s something that me and my dad share. For basketball, I only wear Jordans because I grew up watching him only wear Jordans. It’s all they ever bought me. Now, I’m so used to wearing them that I can’t wear anything else,” said Dela Cruz.
Not only did AJ’s parents birth the shoe fetish, but they continue to encourage it by buying her the latest pair.
“I own around 35 pairs of Jordans, and a climate controlled shoe display so that they are kept at room temp (59-72) and maintain mid condition,” said Dela Cruz.
Battling Tough Times
She’s is currently living every athlete’s worst nightmare. Shortly after gaining recognition statewide after impressive performances in three games at the Dimond Lady Lynx Prep Shootout, and days after hitting seven 3-pointers in a blowout win over Mt. Edgecumbe, she made a jump stop, and felt a pop. She went down with what teammates thought was a minor injury.
“AJ doesn’t get hurt, so we didn’t jump to any serious conclusions. She reacted so calm, I mean it’s AJ, ” said former teammate Courtney Kemble.
AJ is one of the hardest working, level leaded, most entertaining players that you’ll ever come across. Not only does she dominate on the court, but when the clock runs out, she remains humble and always credits her teammates.
“It never even crossed my mind that something like this could happen to me. I guess you never really see these things coming, well at least I know that I didn’t,” said Dela Cruz.
What teammates thought was a minor injury, actually turned out to be the tearing of her ACL, LCL, and Meniscus. One second she was leading the team in 3-pointers and counting down the days until she got to play for the Student Athlete’s World USA team in Europe this summer, and the next she couldn’t even walk.
“She’s such a great kid, she doesn’t deserve what happened to her,” said assistant coach Jeff Lund.
But she will persevere with her patented smile and giggle. What AJ lacks in healthy ligaments, she makes up for in heart and character. Without a doubt, we’ll see her in a Lady Kings jersey again next season, and what’s keeping her motivation going is her divine love for the game, but more importantly her love for the Jordans.