MINNEAPOLIS — Do-overs don’t always happen in sports. The shot ricocheting off the edge is the stuff of melancholy memories and troubled dreams. For athletes accustomed to success, the split second that can separate them is excruciating.
To the South Carolina post player Aliyah Boston, it served as both motivation and aggravation. In last season’s national semifinals, their putback attempt rebounded when the buzzer sounded, eliminating the Gamecocks with a one-point loss to Stanford. Her painful reaction, redoubling with emotion, was repeated over and over. Not that Boston ever wanted or needed to see it again.
Now, however, Boston’s national championship with the Gamecocks replaces any previous disappointment.
With a 64-49 win over on Sunday UConn where Boston had 11 points and 16 rebounds for their 29th double-double of the season and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, South Carolina ran a wire-to-wire race that season as the No. 1 team in the collegiate Women’s Basketball. give coach Dawn Staley her second NCAA title.
It’s the culmination of a year of maturation in which Boston has become the top player in the women’s college game, honed in all of her skills and realized that her voice as a black woman and a prominent athlete is a gift they use would like . With the miss in San Antonio, Boston was determined not to miss their next national championship opportunity.
South Carolina’s first title of 2017 was both a program breakthrough and a pass of sorts for Staley, who was a player at Virginia Made the Women’s Final Four three years in a row but didn’t win a championship. The gold medals she earned as a point guard for USA Basketball became a salve. But Staley’s unabashed joy at the Gamecocks’ first national championship — coming 25 years after her college career ended — showed that she never quite exorcised that spirit until the NCAA trophy was in her hands.
For Boston, it was less of a haunting and more of a lingering needle. Although the native of the Virgin Island has never had to be pushed to succeed. That drive came naturally.
“She was always ready to get up and go,” said her father, Al Boston. “It didn’t matter where we practiced; she was ready and willing.”
Her mother, Cleone Boston, added: “She’s always been very determined. She always had. Whatever it took, she was ready to do it.”
Knowing how close she came to playing for the 2021 NCAA title — after being denied a chance like everyone else when the 2020 tournament was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic — stuck in the back of Boston’s mind.
South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston jumps high for a block that results in Destanni Henderson sinking a layup in rotation.
Boston has won every National Player of the Year award so far this season based on the consistency of her performance as the Gamecocks’ anchor on offense and defense. She could be entering the WNBA now and being a force, but at age 20, she’s not old enough to be drafted as a junior.
Reaching that level in her third season of college was fueled by better nutrition and fitness routines, more strength training, and workouts with the NBA legend Tim Duncan — and the memory of the last year. Even if the putback she missed required both luck and skill.
And it stuck with her parents, too, speaking to the media at the Target Center on Thursday after Boston picked up their latest player of the year hardware. Due to ongoing COVID-19 regulations during last year’s tournament in San Antonio, they weren’t there to hug her right after South Carolina’s loss.
“I wanted to cry. As much as I wanted to hug her…” Al said. “But I think it was good to let her go through that, to feel it, to understand it.”
Cleone said: “It broke my heart.
Cleone has also done what she has always done: send letters to her daughter to remind her of the larger purpose that she is distraught because something is not working the way you hoped.
“When she missed that shot and her team lost, I honestly think it worked for her,” Cleone said. “She would have wanted to win anyway, but that made her keep pushing, setting new goals for herself and her team and working as hard as possible to achieve that goal. And this year speaks for itself.”
Aliyah Boston from South Carolina is in the right place after a miss and can fall in the layup.
Boston set an SEC record for 27 straight double-doubles, and along with her Player of the Year award, she was also named Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Staley worked hard to ensure that Boston deserved the individual honors she does, while admitting that she knew they weren’t that important to Boston.
Boston was so focused on the championship that other things didn’t become a distraction. That doesn’t mean she only thought about basketball. Like her Superstar predecessor in South Carolina, 2020 WNBA MVP Aye WilsonBoston also champions social justice and equality and explores their place in the world beyond sports.
“I told her to just keep being herself,” Wilson said when asked if she had any advice for Boston. “Sometimes in the media they try to set you up against other players or they think you’re one way or another. Do not worry about it. You really can’t control this. Control what you can and be you.”
Boston has a growing awareness of their importance in the sport and what it means, especially to children who see them in Columbia, South Carolina and back home in the Virgin Islands.
Her parents smiled when they heard about a fourth-grader giving a presentation about someone from the Virgin Islands who inspires them. The little girl chose Boston and even dyed the ends of her hair blue in homage to Boston, who is known for her colorful braids.
The national championship doesn’t erase 2021, but for Boston it shows the purpose of that hill they still had to climb after the loss. And Boston has more to offer than the ring she’s about to receive and the honors she’s earned — and to add next season.
“I know I have a platform, and if I think something’s wrong or something’s not happening, I should be able to speak up,” Boston said. “It’s crazy because when I got into college I always thought if you have a big platform, you probably shouldn’t be the one speaking. Because people will have their opinions.
“But not everything will always go according to your wishes. Not even sports related, just everything in life. Being able to speak out and use your voice, especially if you’re a person of color… it’s like having to stand your ground. “
And now, with a championship trophy in hand, Boston stands stronger than ever.