Skip to content
Aalyah Del Rosario

Aalyah Del Rosario, Angelica Velez find home at LSU

Boricua Velez helps Dominican Del Rosario settle in U.S.

BATON ROUGE, La. – Although she spent most of the first four years of her life in Puerto Rico, Angelica Velez lost her Spanish skills by the time LSU teammate Aalyah Del Rosario enrolled at her middle school in the Bronx seven years ago. They had mutual interests and passions.

Communicating wasn’t easy, though.

Velez, a silky guard, was on the seventh grade team. Del Rosario, a center considered one of the best women’s basketball players to ever come out of the Dominican Republic, was on the eighth grade team. They developed a tight bond almost immediately through their mutual love of basketball. 

Velez moved to Puerto Rico with her parents soon after she was born in the Bronx. She returned as a 4-year-old. By the time Del Rosario left her parents behind in the Dominican Republic as a 12-year-old to chase her basketball dreams, Velez struggled to communicate with her new classmate at Baychester Middle School.

Del Rosario knew a little English from the classes she took in Santo Domingo. Velez knew some Spanish words, but it was more like Spanglish and thus difficult for Del Rosario to understand. Nonetheless, the LSU freshmen nurtured a friendship that has grown into a sisterhood. 

Boricua and Dominican hermanas

“I had to (use) Google translate, which did make it easier to talk to her,” Velez says. “It made the process a little longer, but she picked it up really fast.”

Del Rosario is now fully bilingual now and one of the best freshmen in a transcendent crop of freshmen in women’s basketball. Each player remaining in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has sacrificed in many ways to reach this point in their careers.

Few, however, have overcome as much as Aalyah Del Rosario, a backup center on the defending national champion Tigers.

Del Rosario was 12 years old when she left the Dominican Republic to live with her father’s brother in the Bronx. The first two years were difficult. There were lots of tearful nights in the Bronx for the homesick child who blossomed into a McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit.

Since leaving Santo Domingo, Del Rosario has gone as long as three years without seeing her parents over the last seven years. Del Rosario has lived in the Bronx with her uncle, moved to a boarding school in Boston, returned to the Bronx for middle school, attended high school in New Jersey with Velez, and then moved to a Tennessee boarding school for the final two years of high school before enrolling at LSU.

Through it all, Velez has arguably been the most constant figure in Del Rosario’s life.

Aalyah Del Rosario appreciates Velez

“It connects me to my roots,” Del Rosario says of her friendship with Velez. “Even though she’s Puerto Rican, we’re like sister islands. Being around her and just being with her plus she’s somebody that’s known me my last seven years of my life.

“Being around her means a lot because you don’t get to have those types of people around.”

They were teammates at The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tenn., winning consecutive state basketball titles as juniors and seniors.

Aalyah Del Rosario

Now, they’re among eight Latinas playing for teams heading into this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen matchups. Brazilian center Kamilla Cardoso leads No. 1 seed South Carolina. Notre Dame’s Puerto Rican freshman sensation Hannah Hidalgo is a first-team All-American.

Mexican American guard Gabriela Jaquez, the younger sister of former UCLA star Jaime Jaquez Jr., is a key member of the Bruins’ women’s team. Shaylee Gonzales stars at Texas. Baylor has two Brazilians on the roster, but they haven’t played in the this year’s NCAA Tournament yet.

The third-seeded Tigers will face Jaquez and second-seeded UCLA on Saturday afternoon. Del Rosario and Velez are proud to represent the Bronx and their Latino culture.

Bronx pride

“Us being teammates for a really long time, we grew up together,” Velez said. “Having each other on this platform has definitely helped. Having a sister, a Latina sister near me, is something really special.

“Personally for me it means a whole lot just representing my culture. Especially coming from the Bronx, N.Y. Not many people come out of the Bronx.”


Kamilla Cardoso, Hannah Hidalgo lead Latinas in NCAA Tournament

Aaliyah Chavez is ready to ball at Rucker Park

Latina Athlete of the Year: Hannah Hidalgo

Velez is as close to family as Del Rosario has ever had at her LSU games. Del Rosario’s parents have never actually seen the 6-foot-6 center play in person in the United States. The Latinas have served as familial support systems for each other in Baton Rouge.

They are roommates at an apartment off campus. There isn’t a place to find authentic Dominican or Puerto Rican food in Baton Rouge, so they cook their favorite delicacies at the apartment. When not studying or practicing, Del Rosario can be found making some of her mom’s staples. Rice, beans and chicken. Arroz, frijoles y pollo.

Mangú for two

When time allows, Del Rosario even makes the traditional Dominican breakfast feast of Mangú with queso frito, green plantains, Dominican salami and fried eggs. 

Del Rosario proudly declares herself the better cook. Accustomed to not finding Dominican seasonings in the South, Del Rosario packed her suitcase with the necessary ingredients during her last trip back from the Dominican. She brought all the spices and seasoning necessary to Baton Rouge.

Aalyah Del Rosario

“When I went home I brought some sopitas, sazon, all the seasoning you can find back home,” Del Rosario declared with a sense of accomplishment.

Mentored by Angel Reese

Del Rosario and Velez both come off the bench for the defending national champions. Del Rosario credits LSU superstar and SEC Player of the Year Angel Reese with mentoring her. 

Del Rosario scored a career-high 27 points with 10 rebounds against McNeese State. She has had four games with double-digit scoring and a pair with 10 rebounds this season. Velez, the 2023 Division II-A Miss Tennessee Basketball Player of the Year, added a career-high 10 points against McNeese State.

Del Rosario has averaged 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game this season. She is also third on the team with 29 blocks. The sacrifices are paying off for Velez and Del Rosario as they settle in as freshmen. Del Rosario is living out the dream that prompted her to leave home by herself at such a young age.

She speaks to her parents back in the Dominican daily via the WhatsApp messaging app, and they watch some of her games on television.

“It was hard for me to leave my family behind,” Del Rosario said. “But sometimes you have to make those types of sacrifices in order to be somebody in the future in order to help your family to get them out of the country they’re in right now. 

“For me it was rough, but at the end of the day it’s paying off right now. I’m just grateful and thankful that I had the best support system when I came to the States, people that really cared about me. They always wanted the best for me.”

Photos courtesy of Aalyah Del Rosario.

Stay in the Loop

Get the Our Esquina Email Newsletter

By submitting your email, you are agreeing to receive additional communications and exclusive content from Our Esquina. You can unsubscribe at any time.