“College has always been my goal, and when I got to the seventh grade, I knew that I could go with it [basketball] and farther in life. So that was my goal in high school: to get a scholarship and play basketball in the United States.”
That was the mindset of Radford University’s junior forward, Aiden Rainford, as a middle school student in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She considers basketball a major part of her life, which at certain moments has helped her get through school. Higher education was always the plan for Rainford as both her parents attended college and she is continuing the legacy.
“College was always part of the life plan,” Rainford said. “I have always wanted to go to school and get my education.”
The journey that landed her at Radford was not part of the life plan.
Rainford was never overwhelmed with the recruiting process as her father helped guide her throughout. She consistently found a way to impress recruiters, which paid off as she garnered the attention of some four-year schools and even landed a spot on the Canadian National Team in 2015 and 2016. She was on the U16 Women’s National Team that beat Brazil in overtime to win the nation’s first-ever FIBA Americas U16 Championship in 2015.
Despite her great play at the high school level, her journey took her to the junior college route. The juco recruiting process landed her a home at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y. There, she averaged 15 points, 9.5 rebounds, three blocks and 2.5 steals per game for the Avengers, who won their regional championship.
That solid stat line raised some eyebrows from other four-year programs, including Mike McGuire’s at Radford.
“In the spring of 2019, we were in hot pursuit of a skilled forward who could help our program immediately,” McGuire said. “Aiden was a young lady who had experience playing at a high level in Canada and at the international level on her national team. The more we learned about Aiden, the more we realized that she fit what we were looking for.
“When we talked to people about Aiden, her work ethic, physicality and toughness kept coming up in conversation.” McGuire said. “After talking with Aiden, we knew she would have the opportunity to come here and make a difference.”
After some conversations between Rainford and McGuire, the Canadian product took an 11-hour trip to visit the New River Valley school. She entered the NRV with mixed emotions, having received an offer closer to home where her parents could watch her play. But when she saw the mountainous backdrop of Radford University peeking over the hill of Tyler Avenue, all of those emotions faded away.
“It just took it to the next level for me. The campus was so pretty,” she said. “It genuinely felt like I was in a movie or something, and I began to feel like I could really do this. I got to meet the team. Two people who really helped make this an easy decision for me were Tina (Lindefield) and Jen (Falconer). It all came full circle for me after that. I felt comfortable, I knew I could make friends and could fit in this setting. I ended up committing on my visit.”
“Extending a scholarship offer is a powerful moment,” McGuire said. “We know it can change a young person’s life, and it also has the ability to impact the future of our women’s basketball program. To know we can play a part in making a young lady’s dream of playing Division 1 basketball a reality, as well as providing a life-changing educational experience is incredible.
“It’s even better when a young lady says ‘yes’ to our institution and the women’s basketball program,” the head Highlander said.
When Rainford got to campus she decided to take up criminal justice as a major and make her scholarship count on the court. It didn’t take long for her to get acclimated to the Division I gameplay as she not only earned a starting spot at forward but averaged 6.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in just over 24 minutes per game. She recorded her second career double-double with 10 rebounds and a career-high 19 points in the win over Hampton that helped the Highlanders secure the second seed in the conference tournament before the abrupt end of the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“I always knew I was going to be a Division I basketball player,” Rainford said. ”I worked so hard for this from hours in the gym and weight room to focusing on my fitness. I knew that one day I was going to make it, so being here just feels so natural. It feels comfortable, right and amazing having my name attached to not just any Division I school, but to Radford University especially.”
Rainford assed, “Thank you to Radford and to Coach McGuire for giving me the opportunity to play here, to the Highlander Club for pushing our program forward and consistently fighting for us, to the students who are our main fans and to our professors for working with us as student-athletes on a daily basis.”
When basketball returns, Rainford will be ready to flourish in her second season with the Highlanders.