Wednesday, July 24, 2024

WNBA draft: Aaliyah Boston goes No. 1 to Indiana Fever

When Aliyah Boston was 12, she traveled 1,700 miles with her sister from the U.S. Virgin Islands to their aunt’s house in Massachusetts, hoping to one day become a good enough basketball player to go to college for free. to the WNBA

Boston fulfilled that dream Monday night at Spring Studios in New York when the Indiana Fever selected her with the first pick in the WNBA draft. Boston University of South Carolina Second always No. 1 pick in the draft; Aja Wilson became the first in 2018.

The Minnesota Lynx selected University of Maryland guard Diamond Miller No. 2 overall. At No. 3, the Dallas Wings selected Villanova University forward Maddie Siegrist.

The Wings, who had the fifth pick, shook up the night by trading future draft picks to the Washington Mystics for the fourth pick, Iowa State center Stephanie Soares. They took Connecticut guard Lou Lopez Senechal with the next pick.

Boston’s selection didn’t come as a surprise. He has been linked to the Fever since they landed the first pick in the draft lottery in November. Boston, a forward, will join former South Carolina teammate Destanie Henderson in Indiana.

Henderson was in the audience recording on the phone, as they hugged and celebrated loudly before heading to a Boston news conference.

“She was like, ‘We’re back together, we’re teammates again,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s great,’ you know that song?” Boston said before singing her version of Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited.”

With Henderson in 2021-22, Boston had the best statistical season of his college career, which ended with a national championship victory over Connecticut. Boston and Henderson will look to recreate their winning chemistry for the Fever, who have been a punching bag for the rest of the league.

Indiana hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 and finished with the league’s worst record the past two seasons. Last season, the Fever finished with five wins; The second-worst team, the Los Angeles Sparks, had 13 teams.

“He’s going to make an immediate impact in this league,” Fever general manager Lynn Dunn said Thursday at a predraft news conference. “And I’m grateful — I think we all are — that she wanted to come to the draft.”

It was a loaded first round in South Carolina as forward Leticia Amihere was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Dream and guard Zia Cook was taken 10th overall by the Sparks. Brea Beal, who anchored South Carolina’s perimeter defense, was picked by the Minnesota Lynx at No. Elected in 24 Alexis Morris, the star Louisiana State guard who helped the Tigers win their first championship a week ago, was selected by the Connecticut Sun. 22nd exam.

Boston has been one of the best players in college basketball since arriving in South Carolina in 2019. He is a post-scoring, shot-blocking forward who has amassed a 129-9 record in his four seasons with Gamecox. Boston was the 2022 consensus National Player of the Year and won the Naismith Award for Defensive Player of the Year in his final two seasons.

In his final year, Boston led South Carolina to its first undefeated regular season in program history. Boston’s numbers were down because of South Carolina’s depth and the defensive strategy employed by many opponents, making it difficult for him to break loose. Gamecox was average Most bench points per game 36.1 in the 2022-23 season in Division I, nearly 5 points per game more than the next closest team.

With Henderson gone, South Carolina is missing a reliable scoring guard next to Cook. So all season, teams beat other guards, dared them to shoot and helped deny Boston the ball in the paint.

Because of the scoring ability of professional guards and the league’s defensive three-second rule, it’s a strategy teams can’t employ in the WNBA. An offensive player they protect. So Boston will see more back-to-back defenses and room to roam than it has in its college career.

“I’m really excited for that kind of break,” Boston said in a recent interview. “Because I think it shows everybody how they can use their skills and be able to go to work.”

For that reason, South Carolina coach Dan Staley encouraged Boston to enter this year’s draft after the team lost to Iowa in the Final Four.

“There are defenses that play against her that don’t allow her to play. And then it’s hard to officiate,” Staley said.

Staley added: “She means everything to our program. She’s been the cornerstone of our program for the last four years. She’s lifted us up. Raised the standard of how we approach basketball. She’s never had a bad day.

With one year of eligibility remaining in Boston, NCAA athletes were granted an extra year due to the coronavirus pandemic. He could have been in the Player of the Year conversation again, and South Carolina would have been favored to win the national title on his back.

But thanks to rules that allow athletes to cash in on their name, likeness and image, her earnings in college may be the most important incentive to stay.

Many women’s basketball players, like Boston, can make more money as collegiate athletes through sponsorships and endorsements than they can on WNBA salaries alone; The base salary for rookies this season will be in the range $62,285 to $74,305Depending on the draft round.

That revenue potential played a role in the decisions of stars not in this year’s draft. Several eligible players wanted to return to college, including UConn’s Paige Bueckers, Stanford’s Cameron Brink, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes and UCLA’s Charisma Osborne. (The WNBA requires players from the United States to be 22 years old in the calendar year of the draft.)

This makes next year’s draft even more exciting. It could be loaded with talent: LSU’s Angel Reese and Iowa’s Kaitlyn Clark, two stars who led the Division I women’s tournament with their scoring and showmanship, will qualify. (For his part, Reese said in a podcast that he’s “not in a rush.” (to go to the WNBA because she outplays some of the best players in the pro league.)

However, with only 12 teams and 144 roster spots in the WNBA, only 36 players are selected in the draft, and only half of those make the Opening Day roster. And without a developmental league like the NBA’s G League, some of the best basketball players go overseas to play professionally.

“Our best players don’t make a pro team,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said: “You’re competing against 30-year-old women. It’s tough. It’s competitive.”

Expansion would seem to be the easiest solution to this problem, but WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has cited financial concerns as why it may not be possible right now. Engelbert said in February that the league was in no rush to add new teams, but would at least like to see Two new teams were added every two to four years.

“I’m not going to give a timetable,” Engelbert said Monday night, adding: “The last thing we want to do is bring in new owners and fail.”

One of the league’s biggest issues is how teams travel. WNBA players fly commercial, while most major college programs fly charter. Ahead of Monday night’s draft, the league announced it will provide charter flights to all postseason games and teams will select regular-season games with back-to-back games.

“We intend to do a lot more,” Engelbert said, adding: “We just need some patience and time to build it so we feel comfortable with more substantial funding in our subsequent years.”

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