Shaylee Gonzales got her first camera well before she became a star guard on the BYU women’s basketball team. She was in junior high then, taking photos and making videos of her friends. From that point on, her camera has been an extension of her hands.
But it was at Mesquite High School in her native Arizona where Gonzales transformed her hobby into a bona fide career opportunity. She took a photography class and started a photography business she called Sincerely Shaylee.
“My pictures were not very good,” Gonzales told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It was back in high school, so it wasn’t anything too serious, too professional. But it was just a little way to make money.”
From a young age, Gonzales had a knack for creativity. She crafted her own paintings and decorations for her childhood room that was painted black, white and purple. She also started her YouTube channel during her freshman year in high school in 2015, which first featured her on vacation with her family, or on school field trips — all shot and edited herself.
Gonzales has turned her love of creating this way into a large social media following, which has also allowed her to benefit financially from the NCAA’s relaxation of the name, image and likeness rules.
“It’s almost like my own little — like I’m my own boss, like I have my own job, basically,” Gonzales said. “Social media is basically a job. I’m making money from doing brand deals. And I could definitely do that in the future as well — keep it up and grow my brand even more.”
Candice Gonzales, Shaylee’s mother, said that her daughter likely gets her business sense from her father, Josh. Gonzales’s parents are in real estate, they rent out office buildings and other properties, they own a home health company that employs more than 650 people, and they own an AAU basketball team called Team Arizona.
“I think the advantage that Shaylee has is her dad is very much an entrepreneur,” Candice Gonzales said. “He’s always trying to think of ways to better things and to start things. So I think he’s kind of been the driving force behind it.”
The sophomore BYU guard has approximately 425,000 followers on her various social media accounts, which include Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter. What first started as videos she made for fun turned into ones that show the life of a Division I athlete — from game days to road trips to recovery from an ACL injury. She also posts videos of her and her four siblings performing synchronized basketball routines, and some of them feature her Cougars teammates.
Her following started to grow immensely during her freshman year at BYU, when she continued making videos on game days with her teammates — a practice she started during her senior year in high school. But for much of her time at BYU, Gonzales hasn’t been able to monetize her following or brand much.
That changed with the new NIL rules.
“When NIL passed, I was like, ‘About time,’” Gonzales said.
Gonzales has signed a few NIL deals since the new law passed. The major ones include a deal with Mountain America Credit Union — she will feature on podcasts, commercials and billboards while also promoting them on social media — and Thrifthood, a vintage clothing company in Provo that styles her pregame outfits. She also has several smaller deals, many of which are with cosmetic or clothing companies.
The partnership with Thrifthood allows Gonzales to showcase her passion for fashion. She is a self-proclaimed clothing lover with an eclectic taste — from baggy sweatshirts to a nice dress and heels.
“I love clothes,” Gonzales said. “I online shop a little bit too much.”
The opportunity for Gonzales in the NIL space also gave her the idea to have her own merchandise and logo. She sells hats, shirts, phone cases and other items on her website to her fans, who are called Shaybaes.
But being so much in the public eye does have its drawbacks, Gonzales said. Lately, she’s taken a break from posting on social media because she is feeling “burnt out,” and hopes her fans understand why she’s taking time off. And although she’s now in a position to supplement her scholarship money with her following, it’s never been about the attention for her.
“I don’t do it to gain followers and to be famous or whatever,” Gonzales said. “I do it because I enjoy it and I think it’s fun. I do it because I like to inspire others.”
The potential for inspiring her fans was the reason why she was so open about her ACL and meniscus surgery recovery. She shared clips of her in the hospital bed right after surgery. She talked about how the recovery was affecting her mental health.
“I think it’s important to show the ups and downs so people can see life’s not just all rainbows and butterflies,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales may have more than 400,000 followers, but she said she is fortunate that not many people post negative comments, which can be abundant for women in the public eye. She still, however, is careful about posting too much about her personal life due to her being in what she considers is a “unique” position.
“I feel like being a woman and going to BYU, being LDS, it’s a very, very unique situation, I feel like, to have this following,” Gonzales said. “And I do find it sometimes super stressful and overwhelming with all those eyes on me — like posting and just knowing lots of other people know a lot about me.”
Candice Gonzales described her daughter as a kind person who puts others before herself, and also someone who cares what people think of her. She thinks her daughter has been able to compartmentalize in such a way that she understands which opinions matter, and which don’t.
“I think maybe she’s been able to separate between actual human contact and computer contact,” Candice Gonzales said. “She’s more worried about what someone will say to her in person and worried about what they think as opposed to the person, maybe, on the internet that isn’t real.”
From a young age, Gonzales seemed destined to play basketball. Both her parents played at Grand Canyon University and they currently own the AAU team on which she played. Her two younger brothers and two younger sisters also play basketball.
“It’s kind of in our blood,” Gonzales said.
Candice Gonzales said Shaylee fell in love with basketball at around 8 years old after playing in a weekend tournament with seventh- and eighth-grade girls. At 10 is when her mother saw that she had potential to play at a high level.
Candice Gonzales remembered a sequence during her daughter’s sophomore year of high school when, as the clock was running out, she dropped to her knees to recover the ball and, from that position, shot it from just inside halfcourt and made it.
This season, Gonzales is averaging a career-high 18.5 points, while also averaging 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. She’s scored at least 20 points in eight games this season.
Gonzales has two more years of eligibility left at BYU, and she plans to play out both of them. She did, however, acknowledge that those plans could always change. Her dream is to play professional basketball and is leaning toward going overseas to she can feed her love of traveling and also spark her creative side.
“To live in a different country, I think, would be amazing,” Gonzales said. “And I feel like that could also bring out my creative side, too, with photography and social media. I feel like that would be a great opportunity to grow my brand even more if I played pro.”
To this day, Gonzales is surprised that she’s gained so much popularity on the internet. When asked what she thought about her being on a billboard, she didn’t have any words to describe it.
But what seems to be at forefront of her mind is opportunity. When she started her social media journey and seemed to be always shooting, always posting, she looks back on that time as “Business Shaylee mode” kicking in. She said she will probably start another photography business one day.
She also looks on “little Shaylee,” who worked just as hard as 21-year-old Shaylee works now to continue building her brand — a brand she thinks has a future beyond BYU.
“I knew that if I built a brand here in college, being a Division I athlete, that once I’m done, I could have my own business, potentially,” Gonzales said.