SportsWomen's Basketball

Aina Ayuso’s soccer background gives her ankle-breaking abilities

Oregon freshman Aina Ayuso went viral at the Pac-12 Tournament when she crossed over a defender, sending her into the floor while Ayuso proceeded to drive for a layup.

Then, in Oregon’s NCAA Tournament first round game against Seattle on Friday, she did it again.

“I don’t mean to do it,” Ayuso said. “I’m not expecting anything from home. My parents are like, ‘Oh my god, Aina, what did you do?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know dad.’”

Her ankle-breaking highlights wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for her background in soccer, a sport she played with friends at school while growing up in Barcelona, Spain. Ayuso lived just 10 minutes from FC Barcelona’s stadium, Camp Nou.

“I love soccer,” Ayuso said. “When I was young, I wanted to play soccer but my mom didn’t allow me because she doesn’t like soccer. She was like, ‘I don’t care what you want to do just don’t play soccer.’”

Though she didn’t play competitively, Ayuso says she watched a lot of soccer, including her favorite club FC Barcelona, but she hasn’t watched any soccer this year, preferring basketball. But her soccer background remains evident on the basketball court.

“My dad asked her if she had played soccer because he thought he saw a soccer player in her,” sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu said. “She definitely portrays some of those characteristics. She has good feet.”

Ayuso does well one-on-one with defenders. Her quick changes in direction could be attributed to her past in soccer. Her vision as a guard is important to make passes with fast reaction time, something that’s vital in soccer for any player to have.

Aysuo said she played a lot of goalkeeper among other positions, which have helped with her hands and vision of the court as goalkeepers get a full field view and can analyze play.

Opposite to Ayuso, many professional goalkeepers played basketball in their youth, including World Cup winner Hope Solo.

On the court, head coach Kelly Graves and Ionescu have both compared Ayuso to Steve Nash, the former NBA MVP, who also has background in soccer — his father played professionally and Nash was recently hired at Bleacher Report to cover soccer.

“She’s super crafty and she gets players,” Ionescu said. “I think some players overlook the fact that she’s a freshman and she’s really good and she has been.”

While Ayuso continues to amaze spectators with her crossovers and quick jolts to get around defenders, she doesn’t have an easy time in practice when she faces up against fellow Spaniard Maite Cazorla.

Ayuso can’t pull off her now signature crossover against Cazorla in practice, but she can learn from some of the older players in front of her.

“She is a really good player. I see it every day in practice,” Graves said after Oregon’s win over Seattle. “She’s playing behind two potential pros in Sabrina and Maite, and that’s in turn making her better every single day.”

Cazorla also says she didn’t play soccer competitively as a child — many girls in Europe didn’t until recently — but she too is a Barcelona fan and sees the impact of the sport on the ways she and her fellow Spaniards use those skills in basketball.

Ayuso smiles after she scores — she did so after her successful and-1 following her crossover against Seattle. But, she means so lightheartedly.

“She goes out there, she accidentally breaks people’s ankles,” Ionescu said. “She said sorry to us and we were going crazy. She has a lot of improvement going forward and I’m excited to see where she’s going to be.”

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.