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Aliyah Boston, Grace Berger are key to Indiana Fever rebuild

(Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Aliyah Boston took two dribbles. She pivoted. She pivoted again. Then, finding a sliver of space, she stepped through and scored.

The intricate move looked like the footwork of a WNBA veteran, not a rookie playing in her fourth professional game. But Boston isn’t like most rookies. She isn’t like most players.

She’s the kind of player that can go up against 2022 Sixth Woman of the Year Brionna Jones and execute a patient, high-level move to score. The kind of player that, so far, has replicated her efficient shooting numbers from college against the top basketball players in the world.

Through four games, Boston is averaging 15.8 points on 66.7% shooting.

“Aliyah is special, man,” Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides said Tuesday.

It’s why the Fever selected her first in the 2023 draft, and why Boston is going to be a key part of Indiana’s growth as the team looks to improve on last season’s 5-31 record.

And it’s not just Boston. The Fever have a core of young stars, including second-year player NaLyssa Smith, who is averaging 14.8 points and 12.0 rebounds through the first four games of the season.

Boston and Smith make for a dynamic duo in the frontcourt. They helped Indiana snap a 20-game losing streak with a 90-87 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday. Then they led the way as the team took the Connecticut Sun to the brink on Tuesday in an 81-78 loss.

Against Atlanta, Smith had 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists, and Boston finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds. In the loss to the Sun, Smith once again recorded a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Boston had a season-high 20 points.

The two are learning to lean on each other, and their on-court chemistry is already strong.

“Having someone you can rely on for big buckets at the end of the game, that’s huge,” Smith said. “The more we gel, and the more we play together, it will be harder to guard us and stop us.”

Following the loss to Connecticut, sitting side by side, Smith and Boston remained in good spirits. Playing the Sun so closely, just days after their first win against Atlanta, felt like a big step.

“Just based off us playing them our very first game to now, I think there was a lot of improvement,” Boston said, referencing the Fever’s 70-61 opening day loss to the Sun. “So it feels good. I mean, it would feel better if we came out with a dub, but we look at what we need to improve on and see the areas where we did well.”

Sides agrees with her players. This could be a turning point for the Fever, she said, but they have to keep executing and improving every day.

In her first season as head coach, Sides has the tough task of building up a team that went a combined 17-73 over the last three seasons. Before topping the Dream, Indiana had tied for the longest losing streak in WNBA history.

But Sides, who spent 2022 as an assistant with Atlanta, likes the pieces she has – young players like Boston, Smith, Queen Egbo, Lexie Hull and Grace Berger, plus veterans like Kelsey Mitchell and Erica Wheeler.

Berger also was selected in the 2023 draft at No. 7 overall, and Sides sees her as a key component to the Fever’s future. The Indiana graduate played six minutes in the first half against the Sun, running the offense and recording a bucket on a hesitation blow-by.

“She’s going to be a good player,” Sides said. “But with rookies it just takes time. I have all the confidence in Grace when she goes in. She is going to keep getting better and getting more minutes.”

Rebuilding the franchise is no easy feat, but it’s one with a clear blueprint. Every game, every practice, every individual workout is a step in the right direction.

“We just go to work,” Sides said. “We stop talking, and we teach, and we go to work. That’s all we can do. And they’ve got to get the experience.”

Tuesday’s game was yet another experience the team needed: A close loss. The Fever kept within striking distance throughout the game, never letting the Sun pull away. It allowed them to have the final possession, down 3, with a chance to go to overtime.

Hull missed the shot, but the play was well-executed, Sides said. That’s something she’s seen major growth on over the first four games. When Sides calls a timeout, the Fever do exactly what she asks when they go back on the court.

That seems like a small thing, but the learning process is about taking those small things and building on them.

“When you’ve lost as much as some of these players have, you have to teach them how to win again,” Sides said. “You have to learn to win. There is a way to win. You have to have a sense of urgency, fight from the beginning, execute, do the little things … So that is what we are working on every day, and they are putting in the work.”

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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