Nelson aims to lead Temple to first AAC Championship in program history

The fifth-year senior returns for her second year as the Owls, and her confidence and leadership could be the spark Temple needs for a postseason run.

Fifth-year guard Aleah Nelson is poised to lead Temple Women's Basketball to its first-ever American Athletic Conference championship. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Ever since Temple Women’s Basketball implemented an app that tracks who works out at the team’s facility, fifth-year guard Aleah Nelson has logged the most time.

Live updates are provided to the coaches about who does which drills and notes who is putting in the most work in the gym. Every time assistant coach Myles Jackson checks the app, Nelson is there, completing drills.

“I see the work she puts in,” Jackson said. “I know when the team is in the gym. I’m getting text messages at 7:30 in the morning that Aleah’s finishing drills on our shooting machine. I love coming into the office and going to the gym, and she’s the only one in there.”

Nelson’s hard work has paid off; in her first year with the Owls, she started all 29 games, led the team in minutes, points and assists, and was named first team All- Big 5 and second team All-American Athletic Conference.

After impressing on the stat sheet, Nelson is putting in more work in the locker room this season. She’s stepping into a leadership role and hopes to guide the Owls to the program’s first ever AAC championship.

“Our expectation is to have a winning season,” Nelson said. “Everytime we step on the court, the expectation is energy and effort and to win a championship”.

Nelson’s journey to Temple was not always clear-cut. The guard from Baltimore, Maryland, originally committed to Cincinnati and played a season with the Bearcats. She averaged about one point and one rebound in a limited role off the bench.

Nelson then transferred to Towson, where she reunited with head coach Diane Richardson, who she has known since she was eight years old. Alongside Richardson, Nelson earned back-to-back All-CAA honors and was crucial in leading Towson to a record 24 wins and the program’s second appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.

When Richardson left Towson to take the Temple head coaching job, Nelson’s decision to follow her was a no-brainer, she said.

“The reason I even chose to come to Temple was because I trust those coaches,” Nelson said. “I’ve known [Richardson] for 10-plus years, and she’s never doubted me. When she came here, it was definitely an easy decision for me because I trust [the coaches] with everything I do.”

Nelson was a standout on the court in her first year in Cherry and White. She led the Owls in most statistics, regularly playing every minute of games when the Owls were down to just eight active players. Nelson played at least 30 minutes in every game except one.

Nelson’s mentality kept her going when she was exhausted, as she played long minutes to support her shorthanded team, doing whatever it took to win.

“I don’t care if I play 40 [minutes], I don’t care if I play 20 [minutes],” Nelson said. “I’m trying to win. That’s the mentality everytime I walk into a game. I don’t ever try and look at it like, ‘Oh, I played the whole game.’ If that’s what I have to do, I’m gonna do it.”

Nelson’s vocal leadership on the court is apparent in her play, but her eccentric personality is too, which makes her a great fit with her teammates. Her personality helped her become a natural leader, connecting with her teammates to improve their overall chemistry.

Nelson’s transition to a team captain hasn’t been an easy one, and Richardson and her staff played a major part in Nelson’s development as a leader.

“When she first came to us at Towson, she didn’t have confidence,” Richardson said. “She was not a confident person, especially because of her experience, but we instilled that confidence in her. When she first came here, it was tougher, and just our staff loved on her and gave her confidence and reassured her that she could be good.”

While Nelson takes pride in her individual accomplishments, she is more focused on ensuring the rest of the team can complete their goal of competing for an AAC Championship. The Owls had an early exit last year and are looking for a big rebound year. Nelson and the Owls feel they have a lot to prove after being chosen to finish just ninth in the AAC.

Nelson’s leadership and talent will need to shine through for the Owls to surpass expectations. Despite the pressure, Nelson believes she’s ready to be the leader the team needs.

“It is a lot of pressure,” Nelson said. “I try to make that positive. You know they have these high expectations, but there’s a reason why. They didn’t just put anybody in this position. Those expectations don’t scare me at all. I feel like I’m ready for it.”

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