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2023 WNBA Draft watch: Why South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston is the most coveted player in her class

Who said traditional low-post play was dead? South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft thanks to her ability to dominate the paint, rebound the basketball and anchor an elite Gamecocks defense.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - National Championship
The 2022 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award is just one of the many honors Aliyah Boston has racked up as South Carolina’s centerpiece.
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Every NCAA season, there are a few players widely regarded as favorites to be selected No. 1 overall in the following WNBA Draft. How strong each player’s case is depends, of course, on several things: area of greatest need of the WNBA team drafting at No. 1, how each of those players’ games develop during their final go-around in college or even a late riser or two who enters the lottery pick conversation late and surprises people on draft night.

This season, though, there’s one player standing head and shoulders (perhaps literally) above the pack. It’s South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, and nothing has changed since the beginning of the 2022-23 NCAA season to move her down from the prospective No. 1 overall draft slot this coming April.

Boston, a 6-foot-5 center from the U.S. Virgin Islands, has made her mark not only as one of the most decorated players in South Carolina history, but also as one of Division I’s best frontcourt players in recent memory. As the Gamecocks’ starting center, Boston has led South Carolina to an incredible combined record of 120-8 since 2019-20, including two SEC Tournament titles, an NCAA Final Four appearance, and most recently an NCAA championship in 2022.

Indeed, what Boston means to South Carolina goes far beyond her already-impressive individual statistics, and you can bet WNBA teams are looking at her not just as another talented player to add to their roster, but as a franchise cornerstone who can be built around. Let’s break down what makes Boston a can’t-miss WNBA prospect in the 2023 draft class.

Honors and statistics

Boston was ranked the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2019 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz, just ahead of Gamecock teammates Zia Cooke, Laeticia Amihere and Brea Beal. In high school, she was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2019, and won a trio of Gatorade Player of the Year awards in the state of Massachusetts as a sophomore, junior and senior.

Boston’s collegiate awards, meanwhile, are nearly too numerous to mention. She made an immediate impact on the Gamecocks as a freshman, winning SEC and National Freshman of the Year Awards in 2020 after averaging 12.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

Many more awards followed in Boston’s sophomore and junior seasons, in which she averaged 13.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks and 16.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, respectively. Boston was named the SEC Player of the Year in 2022, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and an All-SEC First-Teamer in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Nationally, Boston is a three-time Lisa Leslie Center of the Year winner, a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year (2022) and a two-time unanimous first-team All-American (2021 and 2022). Finally, she was named national Player of the Year and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player in 2022 for her efforts during South Carolina’s championship run.

Boston has had extensive success for USA Basketball as well. She’s won five gold medals as a member of Team USA in the 2017 FIBA Americas U17 Championship, 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, 2018 Youth Olympic Games, 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and 2021 FIBA AmeriCup, the lattermost competition featuring a stacked USA roster with plenty of prospective WNBA talent. Boston also participated in training camp with the USA Women’s National Team ahead of the 2022 FIBA World Cup, and it’s safe to say she’ll be part of the team moving forward.

Boston’s elite play in the paint and on the boards drives South Carolina’s success

LSU v South Carolina Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Boston’s game is molded in the traditional archetype of low-post players. She’s every bit as strong as she is tall, with massive shoulders and a formidable base making her nearly impossible to out-muscle no matter where she is on the court. That’s usually somewhere near the rim and/or the painted area; while Boston is capable of hitting the occasional midrange jumper, she’s at her best when bodying defenders at the cup, shooting 68.4 percent there as a senior (Synergy Sports).

One glance at Boston’s year-by-year statistics will give an adequate idea of just how effective she is at this. For her collegiate career, Boston is averaging 14.2 points per game on 55 percent shooting, and as a senior, she’s scoring 22.5 percent of her points at the foul line (Her Hoop Stats). Currently, Boston is also recording just over 20 percent of her offensive possessions on offensive rebounds, shooting 66.7 percent on those attempts.

In a way, Boston’s physical dominance embodies what the Gamecocks excel at on offense: Offensive rebounding, drawing fouls, and grinding down smaller opponents through a full 40 minutes of overwhelming play in the paint. The Gamecocks’ depth up front (6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and 6-foot-4 Amihere, in particular) keeps Boston’s individual workload lighter than it might be on other teams, as she’s playing just around 25 minutes per game as a senior, but make no mistake about it; Boston is an absolute game-changer when she’s on the floor, and it’s just as much because of her defense as her offense.

Highlights: Boston controls the paint against UConn

Sure, the blocked shots are impressive. Boston has averaged two or more blocks per game in each season of her collegiate career.

Lots of big centers can do that, though. In Boston’s case, her defense isn’t purely a product of how tall she is; she moves remarkably well for her size, fully capable of sticking with most perimeter players to at least bother them into taking difficult shots without giving up easy layups. She’s had a great understanding of defensive angles since she was a freshman, and her ability to defend and mix it up on the boards without fouling (3.2 percent foul rate as a senior) makes her contributions on that end even more valuable.

Think, for a minute, about what a basketball team wants from its center. Rebounding? Check; Boston has been elite in that department since her first game as a Gamecock. Defense? Boston has anchored the No. 8, No. 15, No. 2 and No. 1 defenses in Division I (according to Her Hoop Stats’ Defensive Rating metric), both by neutralizing opposing post-up threats and providing arguably the best help defense of any player in the country.

Now let’s go back to Boston’s offense, this time with the context of what kinds of defenses she’s seeing. As the undefeated Gamecocks (27-0 in 2022-23) keep rolling, opponents are trying different things to keep Boston and her teammates off-balance. Double- and triple-teams are becoming more and more frequent. Zone and “junk” defenses are something Boston and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley are used to by now; Boston has embraced the challenge, saying it has helped develop her own offensive awareness, while Staley will quickly remind any critics that her star center’s numbers would look much different if she faced more honest defenses.

Those days are coming soon. When Boston is drafted to the WNBA — presumably by the Indiana Fever, who own the No. 1 overall pick — she’ll play in pro-level floor spacing, where she can fully put her low-post arsenal to use. The results will likely be spectacular.

Watch her play

There are just two regular-season games remaining on South Carolina’s schedule, but, fortunately, both will be televised nationally. The Gamecocks will take on the Tennessee Lady Vols on Thursday (ESPN) and then finish things up against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday (ESPN2).

After that, it’s time for the SEC Tournament (beginning on March 1), which will be televised on the SEC Network through three rounds. The semifinals will be broadcast on ESPNU, while the tournament final — which South Carolina will have a good chance of reaching — will be aired on ESPN on March 5.

All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through Feb. 19, 2023.