MINNEAPOLIS — Reruns don’t always happen in sports. The plane bouncing over the edge is the stuff of melancholic memories and difficult dreams. For athletes accustomed to success, the fraction of a second that can separate them is agonizing.
For South Carolina post player Aliyah Boston, it served as both motivation and aggravation. In last season’s national semi-finals, his comeback attempt rebounded on the sound of the buzzer, knocking out the Gamecocks with a one-point loss to Stanford. His painful reaction, coupled with emotion, was replayed over and over again. Not that Boston wants or needs to see him again.
Now, however, Boston’s national championship with the Gamecocks supersedes any previous disappointment.
With a 64-49 victory Sunday over UConn in which Boston had 11 points and 16 rebounds for its 30th double-double of the season and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, South Carolina ended a wired run to lead this season as the No. 1 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 became the best player in women’s college football, improved all of her skills, and realized that her voice as a black woman and premier athlete plan is a gift she wants to use. . From the low of that missed shot in San Antonio, Boston was determined not to miss its next national championship opportunity.
“When you use a video of me crying for a long time, that’s going to fuel my fire,” Boston said. “I never want anyone to use a photo of me crying again.”
South Carolina’s first title, in 2017, was both a breakthrough in the program and a shake-up of sorts for Staley, who, as a player from Virginia, made the Women’s Final Four three straight years but never did not win a championship. The gold medals she won as a point guard for USA Basketball have become a balm. But Staley’s shameless glee for the Gamecocks’ first national championship – 25 years after her college career ended – showed she never quite exorcised that ghost until the NCAA trophy came between his hands.
For Boston, it was less of a haunting than a lingering needle. Although the native of the Virgin Islands never needed to be pushed towards success. This motivation came naturally.
“She was always ready to get up and go,” said her father, Al Boston. “It didn’t matter where we were training; she was ready and willing.”
Her mother, Cleone Boston, added, “She was always very determined. She always had that. No matter what, she was ready to do it.”
Aliyah Boston of South Carolina pays tribute to her idol Candace Parker, then shares a touching moment with her after the podium celebrations.
Knowing how close she was to playing for the 2021 NCAA title — after being denied a chance like everyone else when the 2020 tournament was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic — stuck in Boston’s mind.
Boston has won every National Player of the Year award so far this season due to her consistent performance as the Gamecocks’ inside anchor on offense and defense. She could come into the WNBA right now and be a force, but at 20, she’s not old enough to be draft-eligible as a junior.
Reaching that level in his third college season was boosted by better diet and fitness routines, more strength training, workouts with NBA legend Tim Duncan — and last year’s memory. Even if the backhand she missed took luck as much as skill.
And it also lingered with his parents, who spoke to the media at Target Center on Thursday after Boston picked up their final Player of the Year gear. Due to ongoing COVID-19 regulations at the San Antonio tournament last year, they weren’t on hand to embrace it right after South Carolina’s loss.
“I wanted to cry. As much as I wanted to hug her…” Al said. “But I think it was good to let her go through it, to feel it, to understand it.”
Cleone said: “It broke my heart. But there was nothing we could do but pray and go through it with her and know it’s going to work out eventually, but that doesn’t ease the pain now.”
The South Carolina Gamecocks defeat the UConn Huskies to win the program’s second national title.
Cleone also did what she’s always done: send her daughter scriptures, reminding her of the most important purpose, despair at something not working out the way you hoped.
“When she missed that shot and her team lost, honestly, I think it worked out for her,” Cleone said. “She would have wanted to win anyway, but it inspired her to keep pushing, to set new goals for herself and her team, and to work as hard as she did to achieve that goal. . And this year speaks for itself.”
Boston set an SEC record with 27 consecutive double-doubles, and along with her Player of the Year honors, she was also named Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Staley campaigned vigorously for Boston to get the individual honors she has, while acknowledging that she knew those weren’t that important to Boston.
Boston’s mind was so set on the championship that other things didn’t become distractions. That doesn’t mean she only thought about basketball. Like its superstar predecessor in South Carolina, 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Boston is also committed to social justice and equality, and to exploring its place in the world beyond sports.
“I told her to keep being herself,” Wilson said when asked if she was offering Boston advice. “Sometimes in the media they try to turn you against other players or they think you’re like this or that or the other. You don’t mind. You really can’t control that. Control what you can and be yourself.”
South Carolina star Aliyah Boston shares her emotions after the Gamecocks lost to UConn to win the national championship.
Boston is increasingly aware of her importance in the sport, as well as what she means especially to the children who watch her in Columbia, South Carolina, and at home in the Virgin Islands.
Her parents smiled as they recounted hearing about a fourth-grader who gave a presentation about someone from the Virgin Islands who inspires them. The little girl chose Boston, and she even colored the tips of her hair blue as a tribute to Boston, known for its colorful braids.
The national championship doesn’t erase 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’ll get and the honors she’s earned — and can add to next season.
“I know I have a platform, and if I think something is wrong or something isn’t happening, then I should be able to speak up about it,” Boston said. “It’s crazy, because coming into college, I always thought if you have a big platform, you probably shouldn’t be the one talking. Because people are going to have their opinions.
“But not everything will always go your way. Not even sports, just everything in life. Being able to speak and use your voice, especially as a person of color… it’s like you have to have your ground.”
And now with a championship trophy within reach, Boston stands more solidly than ever.