April 29, 2023
Aliyah Boston is everything the Indiana Fever need
The rookie Boston is a perfect fit for rookie head coach Christie Sides and Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides took a trip to Columbia, South Carolina, to watch Aliyah Boston practice during the Gamecocks’ 2022-23 season. Sides and assistant coach Jessie Miller wanted to meet their potential No. 1 overall draft pick in person.
There was one problem, though: The Fever weren’t sure whether the college star would go pro in 2023 or play a fifth year at South Carolina.
Sides, the Fever’s new head coach and leader of a new era, at first strategized what she would say to the South Carolina center, who averaged 13.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in her final college season. “The whole time I was on my way out there, I was trying to figure out, ‘What is my play here?'” Sides recalled this week. “I just didn’t know what to do.”
Fever brass had to pull off a tough balancing act. They wanted to meet Boston and get to know her, and they also hoped to get a feel for what direction the 21-year-old was leaning for her next steps. Looking too eager could come off as overbearing. Appearing too lax would be disrespectful.
Before the practice, Sides was impressed with Boston’s leadership just by watching her interactions with teammates. After practice, she was caught off guard when Boston was the one who approached her rather than vice versa.
“I [had] just got done shooting free throws and I’m very nosy, so I just grazed by,” Boston told The Next. “That was my plan, just graze by.”
It was time for their first meeting, one of Sides’ first significant moments with the Fever. “I just said, ‘Aliyah, I just wanted to meet you face-to-face [and] talk to you for a second. But really, I hope you’re not stressing yourself out too much,'” Sides recalled. “‘But you need to do what you need to do for you, and no one else.’ I think she looked at me like I was absolutely crazy.”
That conversation was everything. Boston later called her mom to tell her about it. Sides and Boston built a bond and established trust, and it played a part in steering Boston to the Fever.
“It made me feel like she wanted the best for me in that space. Knowing that they had the first pick as well made me feel comfortable,” Boston said this week.
Around the end of the SEC Tournament, Boston felt comfortable with the decision to go pro. The Fever then selected Boston No. 1 overall in April. It was, as general manager Lin Dunn put it, an obvious choice.
At her introductory press conference to Indiana fans and media on April 24, Boston was rocking navy blue braids — a new color for a new team. She had to find someone new to color her hair this time, but at some point in the future, Boston would like to fly her usual hair stylist out to Indianapolis. “She’s amazing,” Boston said.
Amazing is what the Fever hope Boston can be for them. On paper, she is a perfect fit. The team needs defensive help, and Boston is known for her defense. She called South Carolina a defensive-minded program, and the Fever hope to be a defensive-minded team. It’s practically all Sides can talk about; she beams about the supposedly less glamorous end of the court.
But Boston is more than just a defensive presence. She is a play finisher, a communicator and a master of angles and minutiae. Her positioning is sublime. And some of the subtleties of the WNBA game will help her thrive.
She noticed one of them on Monday. While speaking with The Next, Boston was standing on the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the Fever’s home, under the basket on the north end of the arena. She marveled at how much wider the key is at the WNBA level compared to the NCAA ranks — four feet. That means more space for her to operate.
Boston will also now reap the benefits of the WNBA’s defensive three seconds rule, which outlaws standing in the paint for more than three seconds while not guarding a player. The Fever’s new post presence will have more space, a significant difference from the constant stream of double teams she saw at South Carolina.
“I want to be able to get good at my midrange game, but also being able to be a consistent finisher around the basket. I never realized how big this paint is until I’m standing here right now,” Boston said. “I’m excited for it. I think it’s going to be good for me [to] be able to try new things but also stick to what I’m good at.”
The rookie admitted that she is a bit of a perfectionist, which can be both good for her growth and bad for her mental state when she’s too hard on herself. Being cognizant of the pitfalls that come with that is needed, but that mindset is ideal for Boston as she looks to develop in the WNBA.
Boston believes that she can fit well with the Fever’s defensive mindset and thinks that her offensive game will translate. Indiana thinks that more space, and more time, will naturally make Boston better. And the rookie believes she’ll pair well with Fever forward NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in 2022.
The Fever have finished near the bottom of the WNBA standings in recent seasons, but Boston should change that. She is an ideal fit for Indiana and can provide everything the Fever need.