MINNEAPOLIS – Do-overs do not always occur in sports. The shot that bounces off the edge is the stuff of melancholy memories and dreamy dreams. For athletes who are so accustomed to success, the split second that can separate them is pain.
For South Carolina postman Aliyah Boston, it served as both motivation and resentment. In last season’s national semifinals, their attempt bounced back when the buzzer rang, eliminating the Gamecocks with a one-point loss to Stanford. Her painful reaction, doubled with emotion, is repeated over and over. Not that Boston ever wanted or needed to see it again.
Now, however, the Boston National Championship with the Gamecocks replaces any previous disappointment.
With a 64-49 victory on Sunday over UConn in which Boston had 11 points and 16 rebounds for its 29th double-double of the season and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, South Carolina completed a wire-to-wire race this season as it no. 1st team in women’s college basketball, giving coach Dawn Staley her second NCAA title.
It’s the culmination of a year of maturation in which Boston has become the best player in the women’s college game, has improved on all of her skills and has realized that her voice as a black woman and a prominent athlete is a gift she wants to use. . From the lowest of that missed shot in San Antonio, Boston was determined that she would not miss her next chance at a national championship.
South Carolina’s first title, in 2017, was both a program breakthrough and a sort of do-over for Staley, who as a player at Virginia went to the women’s Final Four for three consecutive years but still did not win a championship. The gold medals she earned as a point guard for USA Basketball became a salvo. But Staley’s immense joy at Gamecocks’ first national championship – 25 years after her college career ended – showed that she had never completely banished that ghost until the NCAA trophy was in her hands.
For Boston, it was less of a ghost than a dragging needle. Although the inhabitants of the Virgin Islands never have to push for success. That urge came, of course.
“She was always ready to get up and go,” said her father, Al Boston. “It did not matter where we practiced; she was ready and willing.”
Her mother, Cleone Boston, added: “She has always been very determined. She has always had that. Whatever it took, she was ready to do it.”
Knowing how close she was to playing for the 2021 NCAA title – after she was denied a chance like everyone else when the 2020 tournament was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic – remained in the back of Boston.
South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston jumps high for a block that leads to Destanni Henderson sinking a layup into transition.
Boston has won every award for National Player of the Year so far this season based on the consistency of its performances as the anchor of the Gamecocks in offense and defense. She could currently step into the WNBA and be a force to be reckoned with, but at the age of 20 she is not old enough to be eligible as a junior.
Reaching this level in her third college season was fueled by better diet and fitness routines, more strength training, workouts with NBA legend Tim Duncan – and the memory of last year. Even though the putback required she lacked some luck as much as skill.
And it also stayed with her parents, who spoke to media at Target Center on Thursday after Boston picked up their latest player of the year hardware. Due to persistent COVID-19 regulations during the tournament in San Antonio last year, they were not on hand to embrace them immediately after the loss of South Carolina.
“I wanted to cry. As much as I wanted to hug her …,” Al said. “But I think it was good to let her through, to feel it, to understand it.”
Cleone said, “It broke my heart. But there was nothing else we could do but pray and go through it with her and know it will come out in the end, but that doesn’t make the pain any less now.”
Cleone also did what she always did: send her daughter writing, reminding her of the greater purpose, of feeling desperate about something not succeeding as you hope it would.
“When she missed that shot and lost her team, honestly, I think it worked out for her,” Cleone said. “She would have liked to win, but it just made her push, set new goals for herself and her team and work as hard as she has to achieve that goal. And this year speaks for itself.”
South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston is in the right spot after a missed shot and is capable of falling in the lineup.
Boston set an SEC record with 27 consecutive doubles, and along with her honor of Player of the Year, she was also named Naismith’s Defensive Player of the Year. Staley campaigned vigorously for Boston to earn the individual honor she had, while also acknowledging that she knew these were not so important to Boston.
The spirit of Boston was so set on the championship, other things were no distraction. That does not mean she’s just thinking about basketball. Like her predecessor as a superstar in South Carolina, 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Boston is also committed to social justice and equality, and to exploring her place in the world outside of sports.
“I told her to just be by herself,” Wilson said when asked if she gave Boston advice. “Sometimes in the media they try to turn you against other players or they think you’re like this or that or something else. Do not forget that. You really can not control that. Check what you can and you are.”
Boston has a growing awareness of its importance in sports, along with what it means especially to children who see it in Columbia, South Carolina, and at home in the Virgin Islands.
Her parents smiled when she told about hearing a fourth-grader give a presentation on one of the Virgin Islands that inspires her. The little girl chose Boston, and she even dyed the ends of her hair blue in homage to Boston, which is known for its colorful flights.
The national championship does not wipe out 2021, but for Boston it shows the goal of that hill they still had to climb after the loss. And there’s more to Boston than the ring she’s going to get and the honor she deserves – and could add to next season.
“I know I have a platform, and if I think something’s wrong or something’s not happening, I could talk about it,” Boston said. “It’s crazy because I came into college, I always thought that if you have a great platform, you probably should not be the one talking. Because people will have their opinion.
“But not everything always goes your way. Not even sports-related, just everything in life. Being able to speak and use your voice, especially as a person of color … it’s like you need your ground to have. “
And now with a championship trophy in her grasp, Boston stands stronger than ever.