Aaliyah Boston said she usually keeps her cool when facing off against the basketball stars she grew up watching on TV. But her poker face slipped last month.
Boston, a rising power forward and center of the Indiana Fever, was in a close rivalry against the Las Vegas Aces and was shoulder to shoulder with her childhood star, Candace Parker.
“It was unreal,” Boston said. “We’re standing on the free throw line, cracking jokes. And I’m like: Aaliyah, don’t laugh. This is serious business.”
Fifteen years ago, when Boston was just six years old, Parker won the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year Award. Now Boston is on its way to doing the same.
She was the first rookie to be named a starter to the WNBA All-Star Game in nine years and only the eighth rookie ever. The achievement added to what was a great season for Boston Graphic comparisons To greats like Brittney Griner, Aja Wilson, and Elena Delle Dunne are just weeks into her career.
“It’s going to be amazing,” said Ice coach Becky Hammon, who coached Boston’s All-Star game in Las Vegas on Saturday. “Indiana has a centerpiece, literally a centerpiece to build around.”
Boston averages 15.4 points per game, the most of any first-year player, and she shoots a league-leading 61 percent from the field. The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Boston has swept the Rookie of the Month award so far this season.
“I never thought I’d be an All-Star in my rookie season,” Boston said Saturday. “It is just a blessing to be in this position now.”
Boston exudes confidence. When the all-star lineups were announced, she danced on stage to the delight of her veteran teammates. She is ready on the field. With the Indiana 3 Fever going down to Liberty last week, Boston dropped a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Liberty eventually won, 95-87.
“She’s in a little bit of uncharted territory, but she’s still making sure she can make an impact on the field and play her game,” said Liberty forward Brenna Stewart.
Boston is known for its influence. While playing for Coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina, Boston was a four-time All-American and set several team records, including rebounds, double-doubles and triple-doubles. In 2021, she led the Gamecocks to their second NCAA Division I title in program history. She is now trying to make her mark on the Fever team that has struggled for years. Wins are still hard to come by, but Boston has already proven their worth.
“It’s a smooth transition for her,” Staley said. “She makes it look easy. I know it’s not.”
This transition from college to the NBA includes myriad challenges, from the pace of play to constant travel to increased physical fitness, Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu said.
“It’s hard,” Ionescu said, “and it’s something that he’s telling her and the entire Indiana organization to help them do what they’re doing.” “That’s why they recruited her in one year, because they knew what she could do.”
Boston said her basketball IQ is the main skill that has translated from college to the pros. Staley agreed.
“She makes the right basketball decisions,” Staley said. “And when you play like this all your life, nothing changes. Only people change.”
One of the new guys Boston has taken on is Delle Donne, who was named Rookie of the Year in 2013. One of the more difficult aspects of joining the league, Delle Donne said, is the speed with which players need to get used to a new program, a new coach and new teammates, but he said None of that seems to be slower than Boston. Last month, Boston scored 23 points against the Washington Mystics Daily Dawn and grabbed 14 rebounds in an 87-66 Fever win.
“She’s so dominant,” said Delle Donne. “I mean, she squashed us in the other game. She’s a rookie that requires veteran defensive schemes.”
Delle Donne added that it can be difficult to manage the pressures of participating in No. 1 overall. Last season, the Fever finished bottom of the 12-team league with a 5-31 record.
“It’s hard knowing the expectation that you’re supposed to come in and change a whole team, but you can do it,” said Delle Donne. “When entering the league, there is always a lot of excitement around a new player who will continue to raise our game and make it better. So, day and night, people are watching what you do.”
For now, Boston seems unfazed by the interest.
“The thing I always take with me is, I’m never too high with the highs and too low with the lows,” said Boston. “Stay sober.”