FROM PULLMAN -- Our senior spotlight series continues with a look at the career of Faisal Aden.
The friendship between Faisal Aden and Neil Stover began with a broken key card.
Aden, a junior college transfer who came to WSU last season, always wanted to shoot late at night in the practice gym. But for some reason, his key card never worked. So instead of getting it fixed, he'd call up Neil Stover, the team's head manager, to come let him in.
Stover would unlock the doors for Aden -- usually around 11:30 p.m. -- and tell the guard to lock up and turn the lights off when he was done.
"I think it just sort of built a trust in me and over time it developed into a friendship," said Stover, a fifth-year senior who will be honored along with WSU's senior players prior to Saturday's home finale against Washington.
Aden, who was scheduled to undergo surgery Friday to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, declined interviews this week.
It's been a rocky tenure in Pullman for Aden, a volume scorer -- and shooter -- who was born in Somalia, and played at two different high schools in Texas and a community college in Florida before joining WSU for the past two seasons.
At times, he was the best offensive player on the floor, averaging 13.3 points per game during his brief career. Other times, he was drawing criticism from fans for shooting too frequently and at inopportune times. His laid-back, out-of-the-spotlight demeanor led some to question whether he cared. He didn't defend particularly well. Fans called him selfish, a label that made Stover bristle.
"It’s kind of bothered me ever since I’ve become friends with him because just knowing him, it’s so much different than what you just see on the outside," Stover said. "It’s pretty disappointing that some people view him like that.
"I think he’s just quiet, so a lot of people who don’t take the time to get to know him sort of see that and they just assume that he does his own thing all the time. But I think for people to actually take the time to get to know him, people he’s comfortable around, he’s just as normal as anyone else. He fits in well with people."
Asked after Aden's injury whether he was unfairly characterized during his time here, coach Ken Bone said, in part: "...If you look at most great scorers, there is a selfish side, just like most great rebounders are selfish going to get rebounds or guys that get a lot of assists, they’d almost look off a shot to get an assist. And that’s what made Faisal such a great scorer, is that he really had a mindset for that. Sometimes that’s looked at as being selfish, and I’m not sitting here saying he always took great shots, but most scorers don’t."
Perceptions were beginning to change just before Aden injured his knee at Arizona on Jan. 26. He'd won Pac-12 Player of the Week for his efforts against Stanford and California the week prior, scoring a career-high 33 points against the Cardinal before putting up 24 against the Bears.
It was the way he did it -- without making a 3-pointer, or even attempting one against Cal -- that had folks intrigued. The Aden who attacked the basket was far more effecient than the player who settled for outside jumpers, and he seemed intent to prove he'd turned a corner.
Then, in the first half of an ugly loss to Arizona, Aden's left knee gave out on a shot attempt in the open floor, and it was all over.
"I think he appreciates his situation more," senior guard Marcus Capers said. "He’s been looking at it like, just like that, basketball can be taken away from you. And a lot of us don’t look at it like that until something like that happens. I feel like he just appreciates what he’s done here and where he’s at as a person and as a man, and he just sees how much basketball has helped him out. Hopefully he gets back soon."