Athlete of the Week: Ayden Russo leads by example


By Chuck Baumgartner, Editor

It is the summer of 2021, and 16U Mercury Elite are taking on the infamous Mac Irvin Fire at a MADE Hoops circuit. Junior Ayden Russo experiences a coming-of-age moment on the court when the final buzzer blows, and the Mercury Elite defeat Mac Irvin.

Russo began playing basketball in fourth grade, influenced by his father, Rob, and his brother, Max, a WEGO alumni. Russo stated that, from an early age, he “wanted to get ahead”, which has always been his competitive mindset.

Junior Ayden Russo gathering to finish off a fast break with an easy lay-up. (Photo by Nicole Fields)

Russo had a strong Varsity debut season in 2021, and a bright future, since Russo has another potential year with the team. This season Russo averaged 13.8 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and added 3.4 assists per game.

Russo said his most memorable moment was a “comeback win against Streamwood.” Russo had the hot hand that game, draining 5 3-pointers. The Streamwood game offered a clear display of athleticism on the home court for the Wildcats, and a major conference win.

Teammate and junior Keenan O’Keefe said, “Ayden understands the game at a different level. He knows how to set up and run an offense efficiently and cam lock up opponents on the defensive end too.”

Local ARC Center legend and senior Baqar Khan praised Russo’s competitive edge when they play pick up. Khan said, “He’s a good player and always makes the games competitive.”

Russo bringing the ball up the floor in an AAU game. (Photo by Rob Russo)

Russo is also a true student-athlete, leading on the court and in the classroom: he has achieved a 5.5 GPA, making a high honor roll every semester and is involved in the National Honor Society, serves as a ROAR mentor, and leads as a Student Ambassador.

Outside of WEGO, Russo plays for the local AAU program Mercury Elite where many WEGO basketball player alumni have played such as NBA player John Konchar and Howard basketball player Tai Bibbs.

Russo’s AP United States History teacher, John Chisholm, had high praise for Russo’s leadership in the classroom. Chisholm said, “Ayden is a true WEGO warrior. He excels both in the classroom and on the basketball court. What impresses me most, though, about Ayden is his ability to bring people together. Multiple times this year, he has reached out in my class and asked other kids who might not have had a group to join his group. He is to be commended for what he contributes here at WEGO.”

“Ayden is willing to step up for others whether it’s in class, on the court, and even outside of school. He offered me a hotdog once when I was hungry which was nice,” said classmate and fellow junior Mark Stavenger.

Russo reflected on his basketball inspiration, 2-time NBA all-star Isaiah Thomas. According to Russo, they have similar styles and play with a lot of passion and heart, although they are not the tallest players on the court. Both are able to shift and be quick on their feet, all the while incorporating high basketball IQ plays.

Long-time teammate Jack Schultz reflected on his experience playing with Russo. Schultz said, “Ayden is a great teammate, his defense is elite and his passing is always perfect. One game, for West Chicago Feeder, he assisted on 6 of my buckets and I ended up scoring thirty points that game with the help of Russo.”

Russo watching his shot attempt in the air while the student section follows. (Photo by Nicole Fields)

“Ayden has always been a mature and intelligent kid. Throughout the years if his life. He has always held himself to the highest standard whether it would come to basketball or in the classroom. Being his brother, I get to see the work he puts in off the court. His determination is admirable and sets him apart. I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Max Russo, Ayden’s brother.

Ayden’s parents have enjoyed watching their son strengthen his skills this year. In an email, Rob and Karen Russo said, “Both of us are amazed and so proud of how hard Ayden trains and prepares for not only basketball but for his academics as well.  He puts in the maximum effort striving to be the best he can be both physically and mentally.  He is clever and smart with a great understanding of the game.  It is exciting to watch him play basketball and we look forward to each and every game he plays. We couldn’t be more proud of him and the young man he is becoming.”

After high school, Russo is still undecided as to whether he wants to continue his basketball career or focus solely on academics, but he does know he plans to study medicine or finance at college.