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August 12, 2013A 3-star post prospect, Pleasant Grove's Aaliyah Pena ended her recruitment earlier this month with a commitment to UC Riverside. We caught up with her to talk about her decision and thoughts on the upcoming season with the Eagles.
Ranked No. 22 in the NCP Top 40, Pena chose UC Riverside on August 6 over offers from Sacramento State, Wichita State, UC Irvine and Denver. Riverside was her first offer, which played an important role in the process, she said.
"I absolutely love the coaching staff. With their motion offense, I will be able to use a lot of my athletic ability. Academically, they had exactly what I wanted," Pena said. "Location wise, it's just the right amount of space from my parents, but close enough to be able to come back here and visit." Pena is looking to major in business.
UC Riverside went 11-18 last year, including 4-14 in the Big West. The Highlanders lose just two seniors and have a trio of local prospects coming back this year in Taylor Wallace (Berkeley), Kiara Harewood (Acalanes) and Tahvia Morrison (Vanden).
Pena has good size at 6-foot-2 and is a strong rebounder. She can impact the game defensively especially at the rim and runs the floor well. She needs to continue to work on her offense and being able to create her own offense. She echoed similar thoughts when talking about her summer play with Cal Sparks NorCal.
"Defensively, I was consistent and rebounded," Pena said. "Offensively, I really felt like I grew from beginning to end. I became more aggressive and I was able to get more points off taking the ball on drives or turning around and shooting it. Definitely more aggressive."
Fast forwarding to the high school season and Pena will be the top returner for Pleasant Grove, which graduated Top 40 prospects Dejza James and Avonna Lee.
"I think we are going to be a pretty good team. Defense is definitely going to be our main focus due to the lack of height," Pena said. "We're going to be a fast team."