This was supposed to be the year for Aislinn Konig. The senior guard on the NC State women’s basketball team worked her whole life for what she and her team already accomplished this season. They were set up for a chance to make history.
So much had already been accomplished and more was theirs for the taking. Twenty-five regular-season wins. A No. 4 spot in the AP Top 25, its highest ranking in two decades. Two wins shy of the most wins in program history. An ACC title, won in thrilling fashion. Set up for a likely No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a deep run, maybe to the Final Four.
“I think the team still had a lot of potential,” Konig said. “And I truly believe that we could have made a really deep run into the NCAAs.”
In the blink of an eye, it was gone. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has led to the cancellation or postponement of all organized sports in the United States and across the world, it was all over in an instant.
No NCAA Tournament, no more games to potentially set the program record for wins, nothing. All of a sudden, Aislinn Konig had already played her final collegiate game, her final game in the red and white of NC State.
“I was definitely really disappointed in the fact that it was over,” Konig said. “It felt a little bit strange because there isn’t any closing moment; it’s just one of those things where it’s over before you really knew it was over.”
With the weight of an entire school’s fanbase — desperate for some kind of title in a major sport — on her shoulders, Konig was in the midst of one of the best stretches of her career. With 10 made 3-pointers over the three-game ACC Tournament stretch where she averaged over 16 points, including the tying 3 in the championship game against Florida State, Konig was ready for more.
But she knows the decision was for the best and is very much out of her control. With the safety of millions at stake, tough decisions have to be made. It would be easy to get mad that the end of her career was taken away from her, but the 5-foot-10 Canadian guard isn’t like that; she’s thoughtful and understanding, knowing a virus that may not be deadly to someone of her age and physical well-being could be extremely deadly to others.
“Being able to understand that, at the end of the day, it is just a game and these are lives in jeopardy allowed me to come to terms with the fact that I’m missing out on potentially six games,” Konig said. “But I think that the trade off of somebody being able to stay healthy and alive with their family is more important.”
After the news broke, Konig took some time to say her goodbyes to her teammates before leaving for Seattle where she’s waiting the pandemic out with her family. It was a tough decision to leave her Raleigh teammates who she calls her second family, but with NC State moving classes online and closing campus, she didn’t have much of an option.
Even though she won the first NC State basketball ACC title in 29 years just a couple weeks ago, “Ace” is still a college kid at heart. She, like thousands of other college students, is binge-watching her favorite TV shows while she and her family practice social distancing in Seattle, just southwest of her Canadian hometown of Surrey, British Columbia.
“I love crime shows, doctor shows and fantasy stuff,” Konig said. “[I’m] obsessed with The Witcher right now, but my go-to rewatches are House, Bones, stuff like that.”
Konig’s legacy is amongst all the NC State greats. She has an ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player award tucked under her belt and holds the top two spots in the program single-season 3-pointers leaderboard. She’s second all time in 3-pointers made and helped lead the Wolfpack to back-to-back NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances. She’s been a fan-favorite all four years because of her fiery personality on the court and kind, respectful demeanor off of it. Konig’s send-off game was one in which she delivered NC State fans the ACC championship they’d been waiting nearly 30 years for. She says she will cherish those accomplishments for the rest of her life.
“When I’m trying to brag to my kids some day, that’s definitely something that [I’ll say], ‘Well look what I did’,” Konig said. “It’s something that I will cherish forever, and it is something that will bring this team back together many times over the years to celebrate and be together and remember. So just thinking back on the fact that we were just able to accomplish all those things that we had prepared for at the beginning of the season is special.”
In gushing about “Wolfpack Nation” and how grateful she is for the support she’s received from NC State fans throughout the years, she touched upon a subject Wolfpack fans know all too well: the curse of “NC State Shit,” a Wolfpack version of Murphy’s Law, in which anything that can go wrong will go wrong. She says Wolfpack fans are the best, and hopes maybe the support she and her team received during their magical run can be replicated with other teams.
“We could definitely feel the support from everyone but also the anticipation for some success,” Konig said. “People like to throw around the curse and stuff like that, and personally, I think it shows that when an entire fanbase is behind you and is willing to support you and showing up for you, success is bound to happen … I think that if this is going to be repeated it needs to happen over and over again for all types of teams.”
Just a few weeks ago, Konig’s future was only at the back of her mind, a distant thought as she focused on a potentially historic season. Now it's muddied at the moment. Although a professional career, whether in the WNBA or overseas, is all but guaranteed, what isn’t guaranteed is when those sports will start their seasons. Graduating in May with a degree in business administration, Konig has an abundance of options in front of her, but basketball takes the cake.
“I want to continue playing basketball; I’m not ready to say goodbye yet,” Konig said. “So whatever happens with the WNBA, that is a dream and something that I am continuing to work towards. And then overseas is definitely going to happen. I am unbelievably excited to start that new adventure.”
After four years, Ace Konig’s basketball career at NC State has come to an end, and with that end is the on-court conclusion to one of the best relationships in NC State women’s basketball history: Konig and head coach Wes Moore. The duo’s relationship is indescribable, but an anecdote Konig gave while discussing her favorite non-postseason game of her career, a 70-62 win over No. 2 Notre Dame at Reynolds Coliseum her freshman year, summed up their give-and-take, expect-and-deliver relationship quite well.
“I had an absolutely terrible game. I went 1 for 9. I didn’t hit a single 3,” Konig said. “I could not hit a single shot, and I remember coming to the bench and coach Moore grabbing me and he goes, ‘Can you get your head out of your butt and hit a 3 please?’ And I remember looking at him and [saying], ‘I’m trying so hard!’”
In the decades down the road, the future is bright for Konig. As the years go by, the individual games and accomplishments might start blending together, but there is one thing that will never fade or waver when looking back on NC State women’s basketball: what Konig helped build right at the heart of NC State’s main campus, on the hardwood floor of the eponymous Kay Yow Court at James T. Valvano Arena at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum.
“I think it’s going to be the progress and the legacy [that I’ll remember most],” Konig said. “Bringing us back to the forefront of basketball. NC State has a rich legacy of basketball with Kay Yow and really being able to bring us back to that point is probably something that I’m going to be the most proud of looking back on. I’m sure with years the games are going to fade and the accolades are going to fade, but knowing that my class as a whole was able to kind of bring NC State surging back forward to the forefront, that is going to be the thing that I am most proud of at the end of all this.”
Next time Aislinn Konig sets foot inside Reynolds Coliseum, it will likely be as a banner that reads “2020 ACC Tournament Champions” is raised into the rafter, a banner she delivered to the Wolfpack faithful.