As a freshman Aliyah Boston was one of the best players in the country. As a sophomore she might be the best.
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WBB: Humble Boston can't hide her talent

As a freshman Aliyah Boston was one of the best players in the country. As a sophomore she might be the best.

Boston’s freshman season began with a 12-point, 12-rebound, 10-block game, the first time in NCAA history a player had a triple-double in her first game. It ended with a slew of awards: consensus National Freshman of the Year, Lisa Leslie Center of the Year, second-team All-America, first team All-SEC, SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, to name the big ones. She also set a total of 11 South Carolina freshman records. It was easily the most decorated freshman season in program history, and the best since A’ja Wilson was a freshman in 2014-15.

Boston averaged 12.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 assists, despite playing just 23.8 minutes per game. Boston shot 60.8% from the floor, 73.8% from the line, and was even 2-12 from three. A’ja Wilson averaged 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.0 assists, and 0.9 steals in only 19.8 minutes. The numbers are comparable, but they don’t reflect one key difference: Wilson had the luxury of being a role player as a freshman on a loaded, veteran team; Boston was the centerpiece of an inexperienced roster. That’s not a knock on Wilson, but it does make Boston’s accomplishments even more impressive. Now Boston wants to join Wilson as the only two national player of the year award winners in program history.

“I’m just working to do what the team needs me to do,” Boston said. “There might be preseason awards and watch lists and things like that, but that’s not my main focus, it’s just to better myself and continue to help our team be the best that we can be.”

That’s not false modesty from Boston, who exudes an easy-going attitude that undersells her ability. She grins ear-to-ear and is prone to giggling while she answers questions (in that respect she is also like Wilson, who wore her emotions on her sleeve, except that Wilson also has a very clear mean streak on the court). She is modest, always deferring to her coaches and teammates, and she speaks earnestly and optimistically. You’d think you are listening to a wide-eyed preteen, not the biggest, baddest center in the country. Consider the following:

“I have gotten better with my inside game. I’ve gotten more aggressive and more physical, so I’m excited about that,” said the player who made more than 60% of her shots.

“I’m trying to become a better rebounder, especially when I get tired,” said the player who had 13 double-doubles, including 25 rebounds against Arkansas, the second-most in program history.

“(I’m more prepared for) just the physicality. I know it is going to be physical and teams are going to be coming at us even more than last year,” said the player who made opposing guards bounce off her like they were running into a brick wall.

“I continue to work everyday on dribbling the ball and getting my outside shot going,” said the player whose jump shot left Geno Auriemma and UConn shrugging their shoulders and saying, we can’t guard that.

That’s why Dawn Staley worries that the Gamecocks are too nice. She wants to see more fire. Boston tried to argue that she’s a “dog,” an emotional leader like Mikiah Herbert Harrigan was last season, but I’m not sure Staley bought it.

“We all are,” she said. “We are really all bringing it this year.”

Boston couldn’t even bring herself to say she’ll have a bigger leadership role this season, making sure to include her teammates.

“I do think that I will try to take on more of a leadership role,” she said, “but throughout our entire team we have great communicators so together as one group we have been doing a great job of leading each other.”

Staley may have her doubts about whether Boston can be mean enough, but that’s it. She called Boston “highly driven and motivated,” and has been impressed with how Boston worked to improve her jump shot and how that will create space for her teammates. Now, in just her sophomore season, Staley expects Boston to be on the shortlist for Player of the Year this season.

“I don’t know if there is another in college women’s basketball that can do the things that Aliyah does at her size,” Staley said. “Her ability, her agility, her court awareness, her intellect, if she’s not in the conversation of being player of the year, you’re reading it wrong. You’ve got blinders on.”

Wilson was a finalist for the three player of the year awards as a sophomore. If Boston can do the same or even win, it might be time to ask if there is going to be room next to Wilson’s statue.