Stepping into the large shoes of A’ja Wilson at South Carolina may have been difficult for anyone else, but not for Aliyah Boston.
Wilson entered the WNBA having made South Carolina into a powerhouse in women’s college basketball, and Boston came to South Carolina just after her. For anyone, the prospect of following Wilson would have been daunting. But Boston didn’t let it phase her.
“I just looked at coming here as like, ‘This is where I can get better. This is where I can get to the WNBA and this is the coach I want,'” Boston told ESPN. “I’ve made a name for myself on this campus as well. A’ja is such an amazing, talented player, but I wanted to come in and be Aliyah.”
During Wilson and Boston’s careers, the team has made five Final Four appearances and won two NCAA titles, with the possibility of adding a third this weekend in Dallas.
While Wilson was a three-time SEC player of the year and two-time defensive player of the year, Boston has twice won SEC player of the year and four times won defensive player of the year.
Wilson is a former No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA and won the league’s rookie of the year award. Boston has the opportunity to do the same.
And as she’s navigated this journey, she’s had Wilson by her side, helping her along.
“She was killing it in the [WNBA], so to have her come back, it’s still kind of like celebrity shock,” Boston said of the first time she met Wilson during her freshman year. “That’s how it was the very first time, but she was like, ‘Guys, don’t do that. Everything’s cool.’ Now, she’s like a real sister. She can truly say, ‘I know what you’re going through,’ and she has.”
Wilson normally waits for Boston to come to her, and Boston says that she can talk to Wilson about anything.
“I remember my parents and Coach Staley sort of let me figure a lot of things out,” Wilson said. “They said, ‘When the time is right, you are going to know your voice and who you are, and you’re going to stand by that.’ I think it’s the same with Aliyah.”
But there are times when Wilson reaches out, like earlier this season, when Boston didn’t feel she was playing as well as she could have.
“I was just like, ‘I don’t think I’m really playing my kind of basketball, how do I figure it out?'” Boston said. “How do I navigate my way through? She reached out. She said, ‘Hey, what are you thinking, how are you feeling about this, this and this?’ After talking to her, I was like, ‘This is a great relief.'”
“Being able to turn the page,” Boston continued. “She emphasized that whatever happens in the game, just being able to say, ‘OK, let’s go to the next thing. Let’s move on.'”
And as for legacies, Wilson currently has a statue outside of the Gamecocks’ arena. One day, Boston could find herself with the same.
“We don’t even compare the two because they both leave legacies,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “They both stood on their own because of who they are as people.”