Aliyah Boston and A’ja Wilson bring South Carolina connection to annual event

LAS VEGAS — In Aliyah Boston’s first game at South Carolina, she became the first player in Division I history to score a triple-double in her college debut. It was the seventh in school history, putting it in a rare tune that didn’t include predecessor and 2017 South Carolina national champion A’ja Wilson. It only raised the comparisons between the two and heightened Boston’s expectations.

Boston, like Wilson, continues to respect them even after leaving the Columbia campus. Less than four years later – and with a second South Carolina natty on the shelf since Boston’s tenure – the duo will start the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game together as two of the most well-known and top players. league caliber. Team Wilson, which includes Boston, will face Team Breanna Stewart at Michelob Ultra Arena on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

Wilson has often shied away from comparing Boston’s talents to her own, instead wanting the young player to have her own stardom and be celebrated for her own skill, style and success. But their bond has always been there, from Wilson celebrating on the court with the 2021 National Championship team to drafting Boston to No. 5 overall in the All-Star Draft this month.

“Gamecocks, we’re going to hold it, forever, forever,” Wilson said when announcing his pick during the All-Star Draft broadcast. “I don’t need to prep her, because you know Dawn Staley has already prepped us for these times, so she’s going to shine in those big lights, and I’m excited.”

It’s another way they’ll be forever linked, and a nod to the powerhouse built by Gamecocks head coach Staley who goes beyond winning college basketball games. . Just like UConn before it, South Carolina wants to successfully prepare players for their dreams at the next level.

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson tries to maneuver the ball around Indiana Fever center Aliyah Boston in the first half of their game June 4, 2023 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson attempts to maneuver the ball around Indiana Fever center Aliyah Boston in the first half of their game June 4, 2023 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

“Coach Staley does a great job of preparing our minds — and our bodies, obviously — but our minds to just be a pro at whatever you do. Be disciplined and stick with it,” Wilson said during a video call with reporters last month “When I came to the league I already had a mindset. I already knew how I could move, I already knew who I wanted around me on and off the pitch. The brand new.

“I think Coach has done a great job helping us navigate on a professional level.”

The program had a former All-Star, Shannon Johnson, in its history before Wilson was named a month after becoming No. 1 in the 2018 WNBA Draft. Now a two-time MVP, she is making her fifth All-Star appearance in as many years. occasions (the 2020 match was not played due to COVID-19).

This is her third time as captain, and the second year in a row as the top source of fan votes. Wilson is averaging 19.7 points (sixth), 9.3 rebounds (fifth) and 2.1 blocks (first) for the league-leading Aces (19-2) at the break. She ranks first in win shares (5.9), according to Her Hoops stats.

Boston is the eighth rookie in league history to earn the All-Star starter honor and the first since 2014. She placed fourth in fan voting and has already proven herself as a franchise change for the Indiana Fever two months into the season.

“My biggest goal was to be able to adapt quickly,” Boston said. “And I think as time went on, the games went by, I was able to do that, especially as we played multiple teams more than once.”

She said last month being named an All-Star wasn’t on the list of things she thought about or wrote down as a goal and she was surprised to hear the news. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert called her to tell her the Fever had landed in Vegas for a series of games against Wilson and the Aces.

“I was at the airport trying not to react on the phone,” she said. “I was like, keep calm, keep calm. And then I texted my family group chat, I was like, ‘Guys, guess what?’

Boston is averaging 15.4 points (20th), 8.4 rebounds (eighth) and 1.3 blocks (10th) for a Fever team (5-15) that has dropped 12 of its 15 single-digit games. That includes an overtime loss to New York before the break. She hits 61% of her shots, a highly effective clip that is the best of any player attempting at least three shots per game. And she placed sixth in the players’ vote for frontcourt players, a clear indication that her presence in the team is deserved.

Wilson also drafted Atlanta Dream guard and first-time All-Star Allisha Gray, 2017 title team member and close friend, to a roster consisting mostly of her Las Vegas Aces teammates and Gamecocks connections. (Stewart went all-out on New York Liberty and former Seattle Storm teammates.) They are currently three of eight South Carolina players in the league, one of the highest alumni in the nation.

South Carolina is tied with Notre Dame (Arike Ogunbowale, Jackie Young, Jewell Loyd) for most players in this All-Star Game. It’s also the only program of the past four champions to have an All-Star in the 2023 game.

Connecticut, the historic powerhouse that sent dozens of alumni to the pros and many top picks, has Stewart and Napheesa Collier in the game. Oregon also has two with Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally, who became No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2020 draft.

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