In 2011, the BYU Cougars welcomed a new class of freshmen that all hailed from the state of Utah and would make a distinct mark on the basketball program. Many fans were excited for the additions, but could have never seen the impact that would be felt over the next four years.
This year marks the senior and final year in Cougar blue for a couple of these players and Cougar Nation will have witnessed players that leave the program better than when they started. One of these players is guard Xojiän Harry from Bountiful, Utah.
Xojiän was an incredible athlete in high school who excelled in multiple sports. With awards in basketball, volleyball, track, and softball the sky was the limit for the Viewmont High graduate. It wasn't by accident that she chose basketball over the other sports. The passion she had for basketball outweighed her love of the other sports.
For as long as she Harry can remember, basketball has always been her favorite sport and the memories of basketball games in the driveway with family and neighbor kids will forever stay with her. Basketball didn't come as easily to her as the other sports, so she relied on hard work and a drive that helped mold her into the player she is today.
This drive and passion for the game has been key for BYU this year as the team started slower than expected, and then injuries took a toll. Xojiän was already taking a larger role in the team when the Cougars lost Ashley Garfield to injury, adding more pressure onto her shoulders. The plans for Xojiän were to use her athleticism to create match-up problems at a number of positions. In order to make this work, the team had to have confidence in her, wherever she played.
Some of the adjustments needed was her defense when playing the post and using her quickness on offense against the same post players that she had to defend. In a testament Xojiän's drive, she has exceeded expectations this year in her expanded role. She has recorded career numbers in almost all categories and has done so in different roles from one game to the next. She has almost doubled her average points, doubled her assists, increased her shooting percentage by almost 7%, her 3-point shooting by 6%, and almost 10% in free throw shooting.
Even though the Cougars have benefited greatly from her presence on the court and on the team, the relationship hasn't been one-sided. After choosing to come to BYU because of her relationship with the coaches and players, the school's academics didn't hurt either.
She has had the chance to experience a number of highs with the team and will take with her memories and friendships. One of the highest of highs that she will always remember happened in her freshman year as the Cougars took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC conference championship game. Although she didn't play much in the game, it was the "euphoric" feeling that made it special. It didn't matter which line-up was on the court and the Cougars took care of the Bulldogs 78-66. The energy on the court and in the stands were fantastic and she remembers it like this:
"We were screaming and jumping up and down with every steal and made basketball. That was pure joy. Our fans that came were amazing too as they were outnumbered by the Gonzaga faithful and still managed to cheer louder. I will remember that game for the rest of my life!"
Another fond moment for Harry was playing in Pauley Pavilion and beating both NC State and Nebraska to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2014. At the time it seemed surreal as the Cougars progressed in the tournament and ended up taking on the top-ranked UConn Huskies.
Of course with the high moments there are bound to be lows as well. Battling injuries was the most frustrating experiences, according to Harry, as the rehab process took its toll physically and on her confidence. Luckily for the Cougars, she overcame these injuries, found her confidence, and has played a big part in the success of this year's team.
As her senior season comes to a close with her final game in the Marriott Center, she looks forward to a future that involves applying to nursing school and eventually becoming a nurse practitioner, getting married and raising a family, and if fate allows maybe a few years overseas as she extends her basketball career into the professional ranks.
As she looks back on her career at BYU and what helped to get her to this point in life, she leaves a bit of advice for those young girls (it works for boys as well) that are looking to play college basketball:
"My advice to young girls who want to play collegiate basketball is to get good grades. You have to make school a priority now and when you are in college. Also, if that is your dream then make it a reality. Work hard and put in the extra time to get better so that you can make it to the next level. It isn't an easy road and you may have to miss trips and parties and movies, but I promise it will all be worth it when you get here."
Cougar fans everywhere will miss seeing Xojiän on the court during basketball season, but will never forget how much joy and excitement she showed as she played. Although life will take her to other areas of the world, she will always be a BYU Cougar and a part of Cougar Nation.
Thank you and good luck from Cougar fans around the world!
Check back tomorrow for a senior profile on Ashley Garfield.