COLUMBIA — The ink wasn’t dry before the comparisons began.
Aliyah Boston is the brightest gem in the crown covering South Carolina’s top-ranked recruiting class, a 6-4 can’t-miss prospect who’s already a veteran of Team USA summer ball. She’s in Bangkok right now with the American under-19 team, playing for the FIBA World Cup.
No question she’ll play as a freshman.
Probably no question, with the Gamecocks’ deficiencies in the post, that she’ll start.
South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley won't have the luxury of being able to slowly work her recruiting class into games this year.
Definitely no question she’ll get the ball, as Dawn Staley has always coached inside-out with her offense, wanting the bigs to get a touch in the paint before the ball gets back to the perimeter, if it ever has to.
For five straight years, it hardly ever had to. Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson, each a towering presence, could back down a defender and score almost effortlessly. Playing together for three seasons (Coates was a sophomore when Wilson arrived) meant two points in the lane was nearly as automatic as the headache opposing coaches suffered when trying to game-plan.
The height, the ranking and the name (“Aliyah” could be a mash-up of “Alaina” and “A’ja”) have given Boston the pressure of being what those two were right away. The freshman knows it.
The Gamecocks' top-ranked recruiting class isn't fazed by the pressure facing it.
She accepts it, and wants it.
“Obviously, I’m already in the line and they will be making comparisons,” Boston said. “But I just know that I have to keep up what I’ve been doing and not slack off.”
It’s a perfect time for Boston to join, as the Gamecocks have a post game in progress. Sophomore Victaria Saxton returns after playing very well in the last half of last year, along with junior Lele Grissett. Senior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan is also back but is more of a stretch-four shooter, allowing her to rove the perimeter, leaving Boston and fellow freshman Laeticia Amihere as two traditional forwards.
Staley was able to take her time with Coates and Wilson, letting them learn their way as freshmen while not facing the pressure of starting. Each was named SEC Freshman of the Year while Coates also took home the sixth Woman of the Year award.
The Gamecocks begin the season as a continuation of last year in one respect —- another defensive back is injured.
Staley may not have that option this year, which is OK with Boston.
“For me, personally, we’ve been talking about my balance on the court, finishing and things like that, and developing my outside game a little bit more. Really just been about growing, basketball-wise,” she said. “I’m very dominant in the post, that’s my strong suit, and I know that. I like to get to the free-throw line, I can hit the mid-range jump shots, I’ve developed my 3-pointer game pretty well.”
Those are all on display at the World Cup. Boston has started all four games and averaged 7.25 points and 4.75 rebounds while playing just 16 minutes per contest. She’s headed toward her fourth gold medal.
“Aliyah is an elite talent with an extremely high ceiling and an understanding of what it takes to win,” Staley said in a statement. “She is a perfect fit to our already stellar class and will quickly be endeared to all of Gamecock Nation.”
Boston gets a treat right away, as the Gamecocks are playing in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam in November. That’s Boston’s home country and she’ll get a stiff test there, with USC scheduled to play reigning national champion Baylor, the team that knocked the Gamecocks out of last year’s postseason.
She’ll be there in her new jersey and new number. A joke with her dad turned into switching from her planned double-zero to No. 4.
“He said, ‘Oh, that’s a cool number,’ and I was just kidding,” Boston said. “Coach texted me and 4 opened up. My sister also wore 4 in AAU. I decided it was a lucky number.”
Coates wore 41. Wilson wore 22.
Four minus the one, and two plus two, equals Boston’s four.