(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

With the 2021-22 college basketball regular season coming to a close, attention has turned to end-of-year awards, especially that of National Player of the Year.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley has been vocal with her take that forward Aliyah Boston is the front-runner for the honor. In recent weeks, much attention has been given to Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark, who is leading the country in points per game, assists per game and triple-doubles, but whose team has lost six more games than the 25-1 Gamecocks have.

“I think it’s a combination of several things, and I am speaking from having been in the game for a while and having seen how the media portray certain No. 1 teams in the country, certain Player of the Year candidates,” Staley tells Sheryl Swoopes on the latest episode of NETLIFE. “And now that I find myself being the coach of the No. 1 team in the country, and who I know is the No. 1 player in the country in Aliyah Boston, it’s a lot different.”

The Gamecocks coach says she has seen firsthand the media campaigns for past Player of the Year winners Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, Paige Bueckers, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson, and the marked difference between the coverage of them and Boston.

“I don’t think we’re being covered as much as other No. 1 teams in the country have been covered,” Staley says. “I am, however, looking at Aliyah Boston as the National Player of the Year because I know what she’s done, I know what she’s doing, and she’s done it at a consistent basis.”

The junior is averaging 16.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game for South Carolina, which has held onto the No. 1 ranking all year long.

Staley, referencing an earlier NETLIFE conversation with former Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, believes that national media is hardwired to cover UConn after the program’s 11-NCAA championship dynasty.

“ESPN, they are the decision-makers of women’s basketball … they choose who is going to be the person, the team,” the coach says. “UConn is their comfort zone, and their ratings are much better because that’s who they have pushed for decades, and rightfully so. I’m not taking anything away from UConn — they have been tremendous, they have been the team of the decade.”

Swoopes adds that she sees race playing a role in the media bias.

“Dawn Staley is the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Dawn Staley is a Black woman, Dawn Staley’s team is a Black team … to me, that’s not what ESPN wants to promote, that’s not what they want to talk about,” Swoopes says. “I feel because of that, Aliyah Boston, in my opinion, she is Player of the Year, but I think that’s why Aliyah Boston is not getting talked about, promoted as much.”

While she feels compelled to campaign for Boston, Staley hopes that women’s basketball can evolve past singular storytelling.

“I don’t want to be a one-person narrative when our game is comprised of so many great players,” Staley says.

On Tuesday, ESPN’s women’s basketball writers picked Boston as their consensus pick for Player of the Year.

Listen to the full conversation between Swoopes and Staley, as well as a conversation with South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers, on NETLIFE.