Why you should care
Because she will be lighting up college hoops before long.
When you walk in the doors, you hear the squeaking of shoes and the bounces of the basketball hitting the hardwood floor. A group of high school boys is huddled along the sideline, watching a game of one-on-one between a 16-year-old girl, wearing a private school uniform of a skirt and dress shirt, and an 18-year-old boy in Nike shorts and a T-shirt. As the girl, Shayeann Day-Wilson, scores the winning basket, the group of sideline observers erupts in cheers and chatter, making it impossible to hear the music coming from the speaker on the ground beside the door.
Even though she stands just 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Day-Wilson is ranked among the top 5 high school point guards in North America in her class, and has become a Canadian phenom after two viral videos of her ankle-breaking handles hit social media feeds — including one where she yells, “I don’t care about rankings, I’m No. 1!” (Confidence is clearly not lacking.) She has earned more than 100 Division I college athletic scholarship offers and has made the honor roll three semesters in a row. But for Day-Wilson, the youngest of four siblings living in inner-city Toronto, this wasn’t the life she knew even a couple of years ago.
“I never got grades and I was in the principal’s office like every day at my old school … I didn’t really care about school at all,” says Day-Wilson. “Private school actually saved my life.”
People are always trying to bring her down, but it only makes her play better.
Patrick Shaw, mentor
When Day-Wilson began playing basketball at age 11, it was only because she kept getting kicked out of dance class at Falstaff Community Center, just down the hallway from the basketball court. She never imagined that just three years later, she would earn a scholarship worth $42,000 per year to play basketball and attend a prestigious private school in Toronto.
“That was the turning point of my life,” says Day-Wilson of the move to Crestwood Prep. “For someone to hand out a scholarship like that just because of my talents, I was like: ‘I better make the most of this.’”
Growing up, Day-Wilson knew only dance and horses. Her two older sisters both participated in dance, and her parents, her stepfather and her older brother work at the nearby horse track. Dance, she says, might have helped with her footwork on the hardwood.
For now, the high school junior is focused on graduating and choosing the right college. She’s narrowed her list to 25, including top women’s basketball schools Michigan, Kentucky, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Louisville. She wants to major in entrepreneurship in the hopes of one day owning a dessert restaurant, after playing college and professional basketball.
But going pro will require Day-Wilson to build on her still-blossoming game. “She’s a combination of Isaiah Thomas’ toughness, with Muggsy Bogues’ grit and Kyrie Irving’s handle,” says Elias Sbiet, president and director of recruiting for North Pole Hoops, Canada’s premier scouting company. “Talent-wise, she is comparable to Kia Nurse, but maybe not as fast in transition — and then there’s the size disadvantage.”
Nurse, a Canadian point guard who plays for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, stands 6 feet tall. Sbiet says Day-Wilson “will need to adapt and add new skills at the next level. But she’s proven that she is willing to learn and grow, and her toughness is something that can’t be taught.”
Day-Wilson credits playing against older competition for showing her what it will take at the next level. “Playing against some pros in the summer — those women will throw me into the bleachers,” she says. “They play through all types of calls, and it’s made me become tougher and more physical.”
Day-Wilson has spent her life adapting, going from a troublemaker who nearly flunked out of public school to an honor roll student in less than two years. She played against boys for the first two years of her young career until parents complained that she was stealing the boys’ playing time. When she moved over to the girls’ side, parents complained that she was too good to play there too, and yelled at her from the stands.
“She understands adversity, she understands haters, but she also understands the opportunity that she has in front of her and is wise beyond her time,” says Patrick Shaw, community recreation programmer at Falstaff Community Center.
Shaw has worked at the community center since 1991, before Day-Wilson was born. He was the person who brought her into the gym after she was kicked out of dance class and has become a father figure. “She’s gotten to the point already that she lives for hecklers. People are always trying to bring her down, but it only makes her play better.” He remembers one tournament when a parent was yelling at her to stop traveling and carrying the ball; Day-Wilson crossed up her defender and split two more on her way to the basket before scoring a left-handed layup. Then she turned around and lifted her index finger to her lips, shushing the screaming fan.
Shaw says basketball gave Day-Wilson the focus she never had. “She was a shit-disturber before she found her way, always distracting everyone,” Shaw says. “She’s not a different kid. She just found the right environment, and she found her purpose.”
OZY’s 5 Questions With Shayeann Day-Wilson
- What’s the last book you finished? Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron.
- What do you worry about? Not playing basketball anymore.
- What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Strawberry crepes, or any desserts.
- Who’s your hero? My hero is my mom [Rose], because she makes a lot of sacrifices for me; everything she does is for me. And Patrick [Shaw], because he was the one who got me into this whole basketball thing. He’s been my mentor, my father figure. He pushes me for nothing but greatness.
- What’s one item on your bucket list? To meet NBA YoungBoy, the rapper.