Admittedly, Elisa Aguilar didn't have one of her better games in George Washington's season opener at Vanderbilt. The senior point guard missed 9 of 10 shots, including all five of her three-point attempts. She finished with four points and one assist--well below her career average of 16.4 points and 5.1 assists per game.
Aguilar hadn't played in six months while she recovered from a stress fracture in her left ankle. Besides, everyone is entitled to an off-night, right?
But Aguilar was not about to make excuses. When assistant coach Tori Harrison handed out the players' meal money after the game, Aguilar refused to accept hers.
"I said, 'You know what? I don't deserve the money today so you can keep it,' " Aguilar said.
Not many players turn down meal money. Harrison tried her best to convince Aguilar to take it, but to no avail.
"It took me by surprise," Harrison said. "She's a special kind of person."
Aguilar has been determined and fiercely competitive since before she arrived in Washington from Madrid. But this year, she has blossomed into more of a leader. Since her off-night at Vanderbilt, Aguilar has become the team's leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. After scoring a season-high 31 points against Arkansas, she earned Atlantic 10 Conference player of the week honors. Aguilar is one of the main reasons the Colonials (14-3, 5-1 Atlantic 10) put together a 12-game winning streak before last Saturday's 68-55 loss to Xavier. The streak has George Washington tied for the lead in the conference's West Division.
"She's as good a player as I've ever coached as far as her understanding of the game," George Washington Coach Joe McKeown said. "She's a hard-nosed, tough kid, too. She's the kind of kid you want in your foxhole."
Aguilar laughs now about her performance against Vanderbilt, but at the time it was no joke. Her poor shooting didn't upset her; it was simply the way she played.
"I expect a lot from myself," she said. "I know there are days you can shoot and the ball does not go in. I can live with that. But the way I played [in that game], there's no way I can live with that. . . . I played soft and I didn't make the right decisions."
Aguilar missed six regular-season games and played sparingly in the conference tournament last season because of her ankle injury. Without Aguilar, the Colonials faltered down the stretch and saw their streak of five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances end.
As hard as it was to watch from the bench, Aguilar had an even more difficult time staying away from basketball while her ankle healed.
"I think it was the hardest time in my life," she said. "All my life is basketball."
Even when Aguilar was able to play again, she was frustrated by her level of play. She said she is almost back to where she was before she hurt her ankle, but is not quite 100 percent.
Until this season, Aguilar stayed to herself and spoke very little around the team. She was so uncomfortable speaking English she relied on former teammate Noelia Gomez to translate her Spanish. But Gomez graduated and left the team last season, forcing Aguilar to communicate on her own. Now during games, Aguilar will pull her teammates together into a huddle and tell them what needs to be done.
"She's so much more vocal this year," teammate Marlo Egleston said. "In practice, in the games, you really hear her whereas before it was more lead by example. . . . Off the court, we get to see more of her and more of her humor and her personality."
Said McKeown: "It's helped her a lot this year in kind of a unique way not having Noelia because I think Noelia was a comfort zone for Elisa."
Although Gomez and Aguilar remain good friends, Aguilar doubts she will follow the same path Gomez took after graduation. Gomez decided to forgo a career in professional basketball to pursue an opportunity with the World Bank. Aguilar, who is also a member of the Spanish National Team, hopes for an opportunity to play basketball professionally in the United States or Europe.
"People always ask me [if I want to play in the WNBA]," Aguilar said. "I can't really answer because I don't know if I will have a chance. If I have a chance, I will try for sure because I love basketball."