When Haley Jones was being recruited in high school, several coaches tried to dissuade her from picking Stanford.

“You’ll get a Stanford degree, but you’ll never win a national championship,” they told her.

What they didn’t realize is you don’t tell Haley Jones she can’t do something. Their attempts to bring her to their programs only solidified her decision.

“I think I can do both,” Haley told them.

So, Haley committed to Stanford. And with poise and determination, she got the title. She’s about to get her degree, and before going out, she wants one more championship with the Cardinal.

She never feared failure. Not then, not now. Not even when she was a little girl.

Her parents, Monique and Patrick, were both high school basketball coaches. Haley’s introduction to basketball came on the sidelines, where she would goof around with her older brother, Cameron.

Eventually, she graduated to participating in drills and watching intently as her parents drew up plays.

Then, one summer, Monique had her team playing in a tournament. They were short on players, so she asked the opposing coach if Haley could fill in.

He looked at the little girl and asked her: “Are you sure?”

By the end of the game, Monique’s high school players were chanting, “HA-LEY, HA-LEY, HA-LEY,” as she dominated the competition.

Haley showed a natural inclination for the sport at a young age. (Courtesy of Monique Jones)

When the final whistle blew, the opposing coach approached Monique with a bewildered look on his face.

“How old did you say she was?” he asked.

Haley was 10.

It was then that Monique knew. Her little girl could handle anything.

Every day since then, Haley has approached her life, on and off the court, like she did that game: Like a 10-year-old giving buckets to a 17-year-old.

Without fear.


Haley’s childhood was centered on movement.

She had a never-ending supply of energy, so Monique and Patrick were always searching for ways to tire her out.

Monique remembers her husband researching trampolines when Haley was little. He knew it would be a good way for Haley to expend some energy, but he also wanted the safest option.

They settled on one that was enclosed, with high nets, so Haley couldn’t hurt herself. Patrick stuck it in the backyard where they could see it from the kitchen window. Then, in the evenings, they’d flip on the light and watch as Haley jumped for hours.

They also enrolled Haley in gymnastics, unaware that she would grow to be 6-foot-1, and the sport became Haley’s first passion.

But by the time she was 9, Haley already had size eight feet that barely fit on the balance beam. She knew she would have to give it up, but Haley didn’t simply quit. She went out a winner.

Haley always excelled at her tricks, but little mistakes kept her from taking first in her meets. Monique laughs when she recalls how Haley would run off the mat, forgetting to cap her routine with a salute, only to be reprimanded by her coach. She’d run back smiling, salute and run off once more.

So when it came time for her final meet, Monique expected more of the same. She and Patrick had to take Cameron to one of his many activities, so they asked Haley’s grandmother to accompany Haley to her last meet.

When it was over, Monique got a phone call from her mother-in-law. Haley had won the whole meet, then apologetically told her coaches that she would no longer be pursuing gymnastics.

“I went out as a state champion,” Haley says with a laugh.

And when her time in a leotard came to an end, Haley didn’t mourn its loss. Instead, she turned to other sports and activities: water polo, soccer, junior lifeguarding, swimming, golf, volleyball and, of course, basketball.

Patrick and Monique are high school sweethearts who met when Monique moved to California from Georgia. They both played basketball, and as their relationship progressed, so did their involvement in the sport. They worked together as high school coaches until Haley started ninth grade.

Through her parents, Haley became interested in the game on a level that transcended simply burning energy. By the time the 10-year-old was filling in during summer scrimmages, she was also a student of the game.

In the evenings, Monique and Patrick would sit at the dinner table drawing up plays, and Haley and Cameron would join. They used a specific teaching style: “Say it, see it, do it,” that allowed their kids to fully grasp whatever concept the two were working on. They taught them things like Read and React and the Princeton offense.

Then, when Haley got to basketball practice, she wanted to polish her new skills. But her parents never dumbed anything down for their kids.

“You think we are going to lower the hoop? No ma’am. There is no lower the hoop,” Monique says. “You’re strong enough, you’re going to work on this.”

Haley, pictured with her mom Monique, was full of energy as a child. (Courtesy of Monique Jones)

They practiced right-handed layups, left-handed layups, free throws, 3-pointers, dribble moves. Anything and everything that Haley could learn, she did with ferocity. And when Monique was short on players, it was always Haley she called on to fill in.

She remembers watching Haley run her team’s offense when she was in elementary school. Haley dribbled across halfcourt and proudly called out the set, her little-kid voice echoing throughout the gym.

Haley spent a lot of her time training with the high-school girls even though she couldn’t actually compete with them. At 10, she was already better than girls who were years older than her, and by middle school, Haley was well on her way to competing with USA Basketball and becoming the country’s top high school recruit.

The discrepancy between Haley’s talent and her teammates’ was obvious, but she never cared.

In middle school, Haley attended a small, Catholic school. Her eighth-grade class had 16 students — eight boys and eight girls — and in order to field a basketball team, all eight girls had to play. Some of them had never touched a basketball before.

One girl had a habit of tying her shoes while her team was in the middle of a fast break. Haley would call out to her, never in anger but with encouragement: “Come on,” she’d say, “You can do this!”

In those games, it was Haley’s mission to get every player a basket. Sometimes she’d have to grab six offensive rebounds on one possession, but to her, that was no trouble.

“She would literally be spoon-feeding her teammates under the basket,” Monique says with a laugh.

Despite appearances, Haley was already a fierce competitor. But she knew there was a time and a place for it.

Going at someone who wasn’t on her level, or screaming at teammates who’d never played basketball before didn’t make sense. Haley knew how to turn it on and off.

Unless someone tried to take advantage of one of her teammates. Then it was game on.

“If someone is trying to get their shine by taking on the complete underdog, then Haley is going to completely go after you,” Monique says.


By the time Haley was 16, every college in the country wanted her on their team. Today, positionless basketball is more commonplace in the women’s game, but back then, Haley was being heralded as one of the first truly positionless players.

At 16, she was already changing the game.

“She’s like a unicorn in women’s basketball,” says roommate and former Stanford player Jordan Hamilton. “She can play one through five, and she’s a great basketball player because she doesn’t put herself in a box.”

Nowadays, if you watch Stanford, every time a player subs in, Haley looks to the bench to find out what role she will be taking on in the current lineup. With one substitution, Haley can go from running the point to posting up inside.

If there was one word to describe Haley Jones, “versatile” might be it. And not just because of what she does on the basketball court.

Since she was little, Haley was never concerned with specializing. And even when the world was looking at her as the best basketball player in the country, Haley didn’t see herself as a basketball player.

The idea that there is more to her life than what she does on the court is freeing to Haley.

“I never get caught up in one thing,” she says. “If I play a bad game, I’m never like, ‘I need to lay in my bed for two days because I’ve got nothing.’ It’s like, OK, the ball didn’t go in. But you have practice tomorrow and you can get it together tomorrow.”

Haley says she “hates losing more than she loves winning,” but she doesn’t let losses define her. Still, there are some that have stuck with her.

There is still minor annoyance in her voice when she brings up the fact that she never won a state championship as a high school basketball player (apparently the third-grade gymnastics title wasn’t quite good enough).

And Stanford’s loss to UConn in last year’s Final Four hurts her. The Cardinal missed out on a chance to compete for another title after one of their worst shooting performances of the season resulted in a 63-58 loss. They made just 34.8% of their attempts while shooting 17.4% from the 3-point line and 61.5% from the free-throw line.

Haley uses Stanford's loss to UConn in the 2022 Final Four as motivation. (Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Haley still remembers her interview with Holly Rowe at halftime of that game.

Addressing her as “Miss Holly,” Haley didn’t hold back.

“We just played our worst half of basketball all season and we are only down one,” she said.

Haley went into the locker room and relayed the same point to her teammates.

“I’m like, ‘Ladies, that sucked, and we are down one point. If we play 1% better, I bet we can pull it off,’” she recalls. “But they rose to the occasion and we didn’t. And that made it tough to swallow.”

There’s so much to learn from losses, Haley says.

After losing her final game in high school, she used it as motivation heading into her freshman year at Stanford. Last year’s tournament loss taught her to never let the buzzer sound on regrets.

“Personally, I felt like I had more to give, whether that had been defensive aggressiveness, diving on the ground for loose balls, playing through contact,” she says. “I felt like I had more in the tank. This season, I’m leaving it all out there.”

It’s already been a challenging season, with seven Pac-12 teams earning bids to the NCAA Tournament, setting a new record and showcasing the depth of the conference. Last year, Stanford went into March Madness after going undefeated in conference play and winning the Pac-12 tournament. This time around, Stanford dropped three games in conference (to USC, Washington and Utah) and exited the Pac-12 tournament early, with a semifinal loss to UCLA.

Coach Tara VanDerveer and Haley have similar approaches when it comes to the challenges of losing. There is more to be gained than lost in a defeat.

“I feel like we are really ready for the tournament because of the great competition in the Pac-12,” Vanderveer said during a SiriusXM radio interview on Tuesday.

The difficult conference slate created more opportunities for growth, and that’s something Haley will never shy away from.

In high school, she commuted nearly an hour from their home in Santa Cruz to Archbishop Mitty in San Jose. It was the best opportunity for her to learn and grow as a student and a player, so she took it.

When she got to Stanford, Haley latched onto the older, more experienced players. She learned everything she could from people like Anna Wilson and Nadia Fingall, both of whom she still seeks out for advice today.

Wilson taught her about hard work, perseverance and playing with passions. Fingall was the motherly figure on the team, always making sure the younger players had rides when they needed them and someone to talk to if they were homesick.

Now, Haley talks about Wilson and Fingall in the same way Haley’s teammates talk about her. And in her four years, Haley’s natural leadership skills have grown even stronger.

“She always knows what a person needs,” Hamilton says. “So if she has a teammate that needs extra study sessions, she’s going to go with her. If there is a teammate who needs to see her lead by example, you’ll see her coming out of practice with bruises from diving on the floor.”

Jones and Stanford teammate Hannah Jump (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Haley gets a lot of that from her parents, who are educators by nature and by trade. And part of teaching is learning how to approach each person. Haley uses different leadership styles depending on which teammate she’s interacting with. Some like it when she gets in their face, others need a more gentle approach. Haley is open to anything. Whatever is best for them and for the team works for her.

She is also big on feedback. If she and a teammate don’t connect on a pass during practice, there is no moving on to the next play and forgetting about it. Haley wants to know why it happened.

“Did I throw it too high? Too far? Too hard? How can we make it work next time?”

It’s never, “You messed up;” it’s, “How can we fix this together?”


A perfect day for Haley must have three things: a new food, a new activity and stimulating conversation.

Like exploring a new dumpling spot in San Francisco, and then falling on her butt while roller-skating. She’ll end the day talking to her favorite people. No small talk, though — Haley wants to know about existential crises and how people choose to exist in the world.

Her life is all about learning.

“All my hobbies revolve around me trying new things,” she says.

Lately, Haley has gotten into baking. She makes chai banana muffins and has perfected a cinnamon roll recipe so good that she says her mom stole it.

She journals at night, and her favorite part of the day is her skincare routine. In school, Haley’s favorite class is Arabic — though her mom jokes it’s just because she can say whatever she wants without her parents catching on.

Recently, Haley has started to expand the business side of her life as well.

She hosts a podcast with The Players Tribune, called “Sometimes I Hoop,” where she has guests from her friend and South Carolina player Aliyah Boston, to Monique and other basketball moms. Haley is studying communication, with the hope of going into broadcasting someday.

And like most things in her life, Haley has a talent for it.

There aren’t many things she’s bad at. Bowling comes to mind, though that’s only partly true because, according to Hamilton, Haley can get on a roll where she scores only strikes and spares.

The senior finds joy in music and associates different songs with different moments in her life. Gospel music means cleaning. That’s what played growing up when her mom knocked on Haley’s bedroom door, vacuum in hand. When she hears Stevie Wonder, Haley thinks of her dad — his music of choice during car rides to games or events.

Curating playlists for friends is one of her love languages, but singing is something she’s actually bad at.

“I’m tone deaf,” Haley says with a laugh.

But she only knows that because she’s tried it. That’s another thing about Haley. She lives without fear of failure. And that has led her to discover so many passions, and so many talents.

That’s a big reason why Haley picked Stanford.

“I’m not going to play basketball for 50 freaking years, and who would want to?” she says with a laugh. “There are so many things I’d love to do and love to try. I don’t want to get caught up in just one thing.”

Through all her new experiences, there is one thing Haley refuses to do, and that’s be disingenuous. From her “winning hair,” as she calls it— Haley wore the long, bouncy tendrils when Stanford won the title in 2021, so now she keeps it all season — to her social media accounts, Haley is proud to be authentically herself.

Haley with her NCAA championship ring
Haley and brother Cameron (Courtesy of Monique Jones)

She won’t take an NIL deal or a partnership if “the vibes are bad,” or if she gets the sense that a company just wants to use her name but doesn’t want to hear her input. And her social media strategy is the same as it was when she first created accounts in her early teens.

“I don’t curate my content,” Haley says. “For me, when I think about when I first got social media when I was in seventh or eighth grade, it was a place for me to connect with my friends and show them what I was doing. And as social media grew, I think that kind of left for a lot of people, but I’ve tried to keep it as the main reason I use it.”

She also knows that part of being a basketball player today is having a platform and using it. For Haley, that means representing young Black and biracial kids, particularly young girls. It’s a big responsibility, but one she takes great pride in.

It’s a part of her life she’s long been aware of. Patrick is white and Monique is Black, so as soon as their kids were old enough to understand, they started having conversations about race and society.

“Haley loves her dad and takes pride in her dad,” Monique says. “She embraces that she is a biracial, mixed female, but, when society looks at her, they see a Black female. And that means she has to work twice as hard.”

Haley with her family: father Patrick, mother Monique and brother Cameron (Courtesy of Monique Jones)

It also means less room for mistakes, something Haley feels every time she posts on social media.

“I understand that the way I am taken is going to impact how these young Black kids behind me are taken,” she says. “That is a big weight on my shoulders, but it’s one that I invite and embrace.”


Haley’s older brother, Cameron, has always been her fiercest supporter. When they were growing up, kids would try to make fun of him by pointing out that Haley was the athlete of the family.

He didn’t care.

“Yeah she is,” Haley remembers him saying. “And you’re jealous.”

Then, when they got to high school, none of Cameron’s friends watched girls’ basketball. He changed that quickly by bringing them to all of Haley’s games. Now, as an assistant coach at Colorado College, he hosts Stanford watch parties for his players, so they too can see the wonder that is Haley Jones on a basketball court.

Haley has always known that no matter what was going on in her life, Cameron would have her back. She may be fearless, but he’s also her safety net.

On Feb. 20, Haley celebrated Senior Night at Stanford with a signature performance, scoring 18 points, grabbing six rebounds, recording three steals and blocking a shot.

Cameron flew in from Colorado Springs for the occasion.

Haley had no idea he was coming. When she laid eyes on her brother, she started to cry.

And he wasn’t the only one who showed up for her.

Her best friend flew in from UCLA. Cameron’s friends from high school, who all grew to love Haley like their own little sister, were there, too. Even her kindergarten teacher showed up.

In total, 150 people were in the stands, just for her.

“She’s touched so many people,” Monique says.

Haley had 150 people come out to support her on Stanford's Senior Night this year. (Courtesy of Monique Jones)

In four years at Stanford, Haley has won a national title, and in the next month, she hopes to win another. She’s been a starter and a key contributor in all four seasons, doing a little bit of everything for the Cardinal.

She’s helped bring positionless basketball to the forefront of the women’s game, and in April she’s projected to be a top-five draft pick in the WNBA.

Her already long list of accomplishments is just the beginning.

There’s nothing she won’t try, and nothing she can’t do.

That’s the power of Haley Jones.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

If you had a TV, a phone or a computer in April 2021, you saw it.

Aliyah Boston certainly did. She lived it, and then she watched as it was played over and over and over again.

Thirty-nine minutes and 59 seconds of basketball had been played before Boston’s putback in the 2021 Final Four against Stanford bounced off the rim, but that moment, one that took place in less than a second, became the defining moment of her season. Never mind that the sophomore averaged 13.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Never mind that she led her team to a 26-5 record and the Final Four.

The moment was taken and twisted into a narrative that said: “This is Aliyah Boston.”

And it only went away because she forced it to. Boston had to win Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and a national championship in 2022 for the narrative to shift. But the fixation on certain moments still hasn’t gone away. This season, it’s her stat line. Never mind who she’s playing with. Never mind the undefeated record. Never mind the fact that South Carolina is the favorite to win the title once more. Now, it’s a string of numbers slapped next to her name that show a dip from last season. They are taken to say: “This is Aliyah Boston.”

But the problem with reducing someone to a single moment is that you miss out on the details.

As the shot was replayed on TV and reposted on social media, Aliyah got lost. In the constant discussions of stats and skills and awards, Aliyah once again gets lost.

And there is so much more to her.

There was then, and there is now.

No single play — good or bad — can define her.

The shot and the stats, like every moment of her career, are part of her story, but they’re not the story.

She is.


There are only two things in Boston’s life that get her up before the sun: God and basketball.

Growing up in St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands, Boston practiced on outdoor courts. In order to avoid the heat, she and sister Alexis would get up in the dark and at 6 a.m. would head to the court, where they would practice until 8. The girls were happy to do it, but sometimes it took their mom Cleone’s coaxing to get them out of bed.

“It was tiring. We were, like, 9 and 10 years old. Like, are you kidding me?” Aliyah says with a laugh. “But it was fun.”

When they got home, their dad Al would make breakfast, usually eggs, bread and sausages. “He makes them so good,” Aliyah says.

And finally, with new basketball skills and full bellies, the girls would go back to bed.

The routine changed once a week because Sunday School was the priority, so the girls would go before they started practice. Cleone and Al grew up with God in their hearts, and they wanted the same for their daughters. That relationship, Cleone says, is the most important one a person can have.

So even when Aliyah and Alexis left St. Thomas and moved to Worcester, Mass. to live with their aunt, religion remained at the center of their lives. Things were changing for the girls, but that would not. They tried to do family devotions together, over the phone in the evenings, but sometimes schedules wouldn’t align. When that happened, the girls, then 12 and 13, would get up at 5 a.m.

“That was not always so uplifting for them,” Cleone laughs. “But we needed them to know that that is the foundation. Whatever you want to do in life is not possible without Him.”

When the girls were little, they had no choice in the matter. Like most kids, their parents made all the decisions. But they had to grow up quickly in Worcester. They still had family supervision, but their parents had less say in their daily lives. Even then, they chose to continue the religious foundation Al and Cleone instilled in them, and today, when Aliyah credits God in her interviews, it makes Cleone’s heart swell with joy.

But it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. The move was hard on everyone, and the Bostons made it work the best they could by talking on the phone — not just texting — every day. Even now, Aliyah loves to FaceTime. Seeing the people in her life is just as important to her as hearing their voices.

If Al or Cleone missed their daughters too much, they knew Aliyah and Alexis were just a plane ride — or two or three, depending on the amount of connecting flights — away.

“We always had space on our credit card for at least one flight,” Cleone says.

These days, Aliyah treasures her own visits to St. Thomas. No matter how comfortable she got in Massachusetts, or how much she loves South Carolina, St. Thomas is always home. After her parents and her dad’s cooking, the thing she misses the most is the water.

“I’m a beach girl,” she says.

By the time Aliyah made the move to Massachusetts, she was already a bonafide star. The Bostons never dreamed Aliyah would be winning national awards and championships, or signing NIL deals with companies like Crocs and Orangetheory. To them, the dream was always to use basketball as a way to earn a college scholarship.

The move helped with that.

Once Aliyah started playing AAU, Cleone would call her and ask who she was playing. Every time, Aliyah had the same answer: “I don’t know.”

To her, the name of the opponents didn’t matter. Aliyah was just playing basketball, and if she played the way she knew how, the way she always did, she would be successful. It wasn’t that she was cocky — Cleone wants that to be clear. Her daughter just had an inherent self-belief that she could do anything.

During one of those games where Aliyah didn’t know her opponent, Cleone had flown in to watch. As they walked into the gym, Aliyah realized she’d left her jersey in the car and ran back out to the parking lot to retrieve it. As she sprinted away, her mom heard the chatter in the gym: “That’s her. That’s the girl!”

“When she came back I said, ‘You may not know who you are playing, but guess what? Those girls know who the hell you are,’” Cleone says now with a laugh.


Aliyah has always cared deeply and desperately for the people around her. Even those she doesn’t know.

“You can never say Aliyah has been nasty to someone,” says Stanford player and close friend Haley Jones. “She’s always everyone’s biggest fan.”

During games, she likes to “chop it up” with opponents. You won’t find her trash-talking, unless it’s lighthearted banter with one of her friends on an opposing team. Instead, she typically makes conversation.

“She is chatting, especially when we play against each other. Our teammates will be like, ‘Will y’all shut up?” Jones says with a laugh.

Aliyah is the kind of person to seek opponents out after a game. If they played well, it’s to congratulate them. If they didn’t, she offers encouragement. And on her own squad, Aliyah always puts her teammates first. She knows every player’s in-game assignment as well as she knows her own. She knows how her teammates are feeling, and what they are going through.

Mistakes are her responsibility. Losses are her responsibility. Even when they shouldn’t be.

“If things aren’t going well or if the team loses, she takes that on,” Cleone says.

Boston embraces Angel Reese after South Carolina beat LSU on Feb. 12. (Lance King/Getty Images)

When South Carolina played one of its closest games of the season, a 64-57 overtime win over Ole Miss on Feb. 19, Aliyah finished with a double-double. Her 13 points, 12 rebounds and three assists were a big reason the Gamecocks came away with a victory. But as the last minute of regulation ticked down, she missed three free throws in a row.

The first thing Aliyah did when she got off the court was type a message in her family group chat: “Sorry I missed those free throws,” she wrote.

Never mind that she made the one that counted, forcing overtime and allowing her team to win in the extra frame. The mistakes were the first thing she held onto, because of what they could have caused.

For Aliyah, the idea of letting her people down, even if it’s just based on her own perception, is almost too much to bear.

Cleone tells a story about Aliyah and Alexis, back when the girls were in first and second grade, living in St. Thomas. She took them to the park, and Alexis, the older sister, had lent her bike to a little boy who didn’t have one. Cleone sat on a bench with the other parents and watched. Alexis became unhappy seeing the boy playing with her bike. Finally, she decided she wanted it back, but she didn’t want to ask for it. Alexis felt bad, but Aliyah didn’t. Her sister wanted her bike, so she would get it.

“I went over and got it,” Aliyah says. “I could have just minded my business, but I didn’t because she wanted her bike back.”

But if the boy was playing with Aliyah’s bike, they know it would have been different.

“I probably would have just let him have it,” she says.


Aliyah fell into a crouch. She planted her palms to the floor and let her head drop, her blue and yellow braids cascading down around her face.

South Carolina had just lost to Stanford in the 2021 Final Four, and Aliyah had missed the final shot attempt, one that would have lifted the Gamecocks to a one-point victory at the buzzer. Instead, they fell 66-65 and would be going home.

As cameras zoomed in on her crying, they captured a moment that would dominate headlines, photos and tweets surrounding the game. But they missed the truth.

Aliyah wasn’t crying because she missed the shot. She was crying because her team lost. And she knew how hurt they would all be.

(C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Like the text to her family after the Ole Miss game, and like her quest to reclaim her sister’s bike, she was never the motivation. They were.

That is why she cried. Not for her, but for them. Aliyah took it all on.

Jones was on the other side of the shot. She celebrated the win with Stanford as Aliyah and South Carolina were in agony over defeat.

“Forty minutes happened before that shot,” Jones says, shaking her head. Nearly two years later, she’s still visibly irritated about what her friend went through.

Aliyah finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. South Carolina missed 42 other shots, but Aliyah’s was all anyone could talk about. Everywhere they looked, Al and Cleone saw their daughter’s crying face.

“I’d never seen anything run on TV so much,” Cleone says. “I told my husband, ‘Her tears are going to be famous.’”


After that, Aliyah and coach Dawn Staley made a pact. They would “turn her frown upside down.” Aliyah would have a season so exceedingly dominant that every media outlet in the country would have no choice but to replace the photo of her crying with one of her beaming with joy.

And she did.

Aliyah won 2021-22 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Then, she led South Carolina to a national title, the second in program history.

The narrative shifted because she forced it to. But as quickly as those tears became smiles, the praise became criticism once more.

This season, it’s Aliyah’s stat line that’s being brandished against her — 13.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 assists per game. Those numbers are lower than her production last season, and are compared to the season averages of players like Caitlin Clark of Iowa (27 points, 8.3 assists, 7.5 rebounds) and Angel Reese of LSU (23.4 points, 15.5 rebounds).

“If you put things into context, Aliyah is playing with other All-Americans on her team,” Jones says. “She doesn’t have to carry her team, but put her in a scenario that she needs to, and best believe she will.”

Look at any social media post about Player of the Year candidates this season, and you’ll notice a theme. Most players have defenders in the comments, pleading their cases. Aliyah has those, too, but she also has critics. They make sure to lay out all the reasons that she shouldn’t win. There are so many that it’s impossible to miss, such as in a March 4 tweet about the Wooden Award finalists:

“Typical ESPN bias promoting Boston over everyone else.”

“Aliyah Boston is the most overrated player in all of sports. Her numbers are average. She wins awards because of her team/ coach.”

“Undeserving. Enough said.”

Aliyah is aware of these kinds of comments. Especially when the Twitter trolls go out of their way to tag her, ensuring that Aliyah sees their hate.

And sometimes, she wants to respond. Just for a moment, she thinks, she might control the narrative once more.

But she never does.

“Not every battle is for me to fight,” she says. “I learned that in the past, especially last year. I just have to live the truth of what is for me is for me.”

That doesn’t mean she isn’t tempted. But when she is, Cleone is there to remind her to leave it alone.

“People will bait you,” Cleone says. “People put things out there just to get you involved. And sometimes the best way to argue with a fool is to say nothing at all.”

And if the comments are bad enough that they need a response, there’s always someone to stick up for Aliyah so she doesn’t have to stick up for herself: Dawn Staley.

South Carolina’s head coach is Aliyah’s fiercest protector. There’s no battle she won’t fight for her senior.

When the crying photo was being posted over and over, Staley tweeted several pictures of Aliyah for media outlets to use as replacements.

When Aliyah wasn’t invited to the ESPYs last year, despite being nominated for an award, Staley spoke out.

And now, when people criticize Aliyah’s numbers, Staley has more words.

“There’s not anyone in the country that produces like she produces on both sides of the basketball,” she told reporters after South Carolina beat then-No. 3 LSU in February. “Nobody. She is the best player in the country.”

Boston and Dawn Staley pose with the 2023 SEC regular season championship trophy, their third together. (Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

The shot didn’t change Aliyah, and the constant conversation around her stat line won’t either. She’s always been steadfastly herself, from the braids to the colorful crocs she wears.

South Carolina and Staley changed her, though. For the better.

Aliyah came in as a shy freshman, and by her sophomore year she had been named a team captain. Her coaches asked her to be more of a leader, so she worked at it every day. Coming to South Carolina, Aliyah says, is the best thing she ever did. Her teammates, Staley and the program have made Aliyah even more herself.

“She never had to dress like someone else or have what someone else had to be comfortable,” Cleone says. “She was always comfortable in who she is. And that has never changed. But she has grown and she has gotten even more confident in who she is as a person.”

Despite Cleone’s insistence that Aliyah not respond to hate, she does. Just in her own way, one that Cleone can be proud of.

Every day that Aliyah holds her head high is a response. Every game where she succeeds, and even ones where she struggles, Aliyah is responding. She’s responding by being herself, by living life her own way. It’s allowed her to wade through criticism and become a fixture in the game. Aliyah is projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 WNBA draft. When you think of women’s college basketball, it’s hard not to think of the South Carolina star.

But like turning the frown upside down, Aliyah had to make that happen. She had to be so good that she could not be ignored.

Last season, in addition to her POY and DPOY awards, Aliyah was named SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Wade Trophy winner, the Associated Press Player of the Year, the Lisa Leslie Award winner, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player and a national champion.

She became the face of the sport.

And yet, with every award, every record, every great game, there are prominent voices trying to knock her back down.

“They can always find a positive when it’s someone else, even if they have a bad game,” Cleone says. “But for Aliyah it’s, ‘Oh, Boston doesn’t perform anymore. They won, but she was nowhere to be found.’”

Aliyah is careful when addressing this point. She knows it’s easy for people to take her words and twist them.

But she also knows the realities of being a Black woman in the spotlight. And when it comes to her representing women’s college basketball, there are critics who would rather see someone else.

It’s a topic Staley discussed on her podcast NETLIFE during last year’s Player of the Year race, stating that the way Aliyah is portrayed in the media is “different” than the way other predominant players are covered.

“In terms of me being a Black woman, it’s not always what they want to put out,” Aliyah says. “It’s definitely hard in that matter because sometimes people have this specific image that they would rather see.”

Aliyah has learned that she can’t please everyone. She can’t be everything to everyone. There will always be people who don’t want her to succeed, and it’s hard to ignore them, but Aliyah knows those people don’t matter.

“You don’t have to be perfect for the people outside of your circle,” she says.


Cleone and Al may live far away, but they come to as many games as possible. Recently, they made the long journey from St. Thomas and settled into the stands for one of Aliyah’s games. They prepared to cheer for their daughter, only to hear opposing fans calling Aliyah and her teammates “thugs” and spewing other hateful rhetoric, unaware that her parents were sitting right next to them.

Aliyah responded, just like she always does — without saying anything. The senior posted up her opponent and executed a strong move, scoring with ease.

Cleone stood up.

“That one is mine!” she exclaimed with pride, loud enough for the whole section to hear.

(Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports)

Aliyah’s circle will continue to support her, and others will continue to criticize. Through it all, Aliyah will continue to be Aliyah. She will keep wearing her hair in colorful braids. She will keep loving God. She will keep dominating on the basketball court, winning games and awards. She will keep uplifting those around her.

She will keep finding the joy in basketball, no matter what moments people choose to define her by.

They will talk about the shot, and the stats, and whatever else they can use to try to bring her down. But if you want to pick a moment that says, “This is Aliyah Boston,” plenty of others would be more apt.

Define her as the little sister who got her sibling’s bike back.

Define her as the daughter who talks to her parents on the phone every day.

Define her as the player who puts her teammates first, and the one who wants everyone to find success in life.

But however you define Aliyah Boston, remember this:

“The world cannot break my child,” Cleone says.

Aliyah is too strong to be broken. She shouldn’t have to be, but she is.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

When Diamond Miller crossed up Notre Dame’s Kylee Watson with two seconds left on the clock of a tie game on Dec. 2, Maryland fans held their breath.

All but one.

Sitting on a couch in her family’s home in New Jersey, Adreana Miller didn’t flinch. Her younger sister had already put up 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the game, and when she saw the move Diamond was executing, it felt like it was happening in slow motion.

Adreana had seen it before. She’d been the victim of Diamond’s dagger-like shooting in countless games of one-on-one, where she’d look over her shoulder to see her younger sister burying that same shot. The one-footed jumper might as well have been a layup, Adreana said. Shooting off the bounce from the elbow is Diamond’s “bread and butter.”

The outcome, she believed, was a forgone conclusion.

So, Adreana didn’t even celebrate when the shot fell through the net, lifting Maryland to a 74-72 win over then-No. 7 Notre Dame in South Bend. But when Diamond put her finger to her lips, shushing the crowd, she couldn’t help but smile.

The moment was quintessential Diamond Miller.

Just nine months earlier, there were no forgone conclusions in Diamond’s life. She didn’t know if she would be in a position to hit buzzer-beaters. She didn’t even know if she would be wearing a Maryland jersey this season.

A knee injury that nagged her throughout her junior year needed surgery, and when the 2021-22 season came to a close, she found out her teammates and best friends at Maryland, Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu, would be leaving the program.

The basketball bubble she had grown accustomed to was changing.

For the first time in a long time, Diamond Miller’s future was uncertain.


By the time Diamond was old enough to play organized basketball, she had already been waiting years to put on a uniform. Her father, Lance, had been a standout player at Villanova — the school that later gave Diamond her first scholarship offer in eighth grade — and when Adreana was old enough, Lance set up an AAU program.

From then on, it was a waiting game for Diamond. She and the third Miller sister, LaNiya, spent countless hours on the sidelines, waiting for their turns.

Wanting to follow in her oldest sister’s footsteps, Diamond adopted the same short shorts that Adreana sported but added her own twist to the uniform. Diamond and LaNiya thought they would start a new trend when they accessorized their jersey and shorts with tall, tie-dye socks. One was blue and the other yellow, to match their team colors.

“They were up to my knees,” Diamond says with a laugh, her cheeks perking up to reveal two pronounced dimples. “We thought we were so cool.”

The socks didn’t last long, but basketball was never going away.

The only person in the Miller family who didn’t play the sport is their mother, Dreana — though that is a running joke with the Miller sisters. Despite aunts, uncles and grandparents all denying Dreana’s basketball background, their mother maintains that she played in high school.

Whether she did or didn’t doesn’t matter. Dreana is now fully a basketball mom. All three of her daughters played in college, and her youngest son, Landen, plays for his high school team. After numerous shooting sessions with her kids, Dreana has developed into a skilled rebounder.

But when it comes to basketball advice, Diamond goes to her dad. There was a time when she wasn’t so receptive to his input, but now she soaks it all in.

“He’s my dad, he’s my coach, and he’s also a mentor when it comes to the game,” Diamond says. “He sees things from a different perspective, now that he’s not playing.”

He was also responsible for the first time Diamond felt uncomfortable as a basketball player.

She always played up an age group with LaNiya, which despite being a more difficult level of basketball, brought a level of comfort. One day, the younger age group — the team Diamond technically should have been playing for — was low on numbers. Lance asked Diamond to step in, but she was resistant.

“I told him I didn’t want to play with them, and I was so nervous,” she says.

But being uncomfortable turned out to be a good thing. Because when Diamond played with girls her own age, she was able to see just how good she was. The years of playing up had paid off.

“When I played at my level, I was dominating,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Am I good at this sport?’ It was like an aha moment.”

After that, no element of basketball could scare her. At least not for a long time.

Diamond quickly became a sought-after prospect. By ninth grade, she could beat Adreana in one-on-one. She helped the USA U-16 team to a gold medal, became the leading scorer in Franklin High School history and was named a McDonald’s All-American. By the time she was ready for college, Miller had her pick of schools as the 18th-ranked player in the country.

She whittled down her offers to two schools, Notre Dame and Maryland, and chose the latter in part because of its proximity to her home state of New Jersey.

When she got to Maryland, Diamond enjoyed instant success. She played 19 minutes a game as a freshman, making three starts and averaging 7.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. During her sophomore year, Diamond completely erupted, earning All-Big Ten honors thanks to her 17.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assist and 1.4 steals per game.

Diamond Miller drives to the basket against Indiana's Grace Berger during her freshman year at Maryland. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

She expected more of the same in her junior year. But a knee injury meant Diamond could play in only 22 of her team’s games, and her numbers (particularly her scoring) took a slight dip.

It was a trying season, both for Diamond and for Maryland. The Terrapins started the season ranked No. 4 in the country before stumbling to a 23-9 record and a Sweet 16 loss at the hands of Stanford. Still, when it was over, Diamond drew praise for her play and the way she handled adversity.

Plus, the knee that limited her seemed healthy once more, and with a few weeks rest, Diamond thought she would be back playing basketball and preparing for the 2022-23 season with her friends.

That’s not what happened. Instead, for just the second time in her life, basketball made Diamond uncomfortable.


It was a spring day in 2022, just after the conclusion of her junior season, and Diamond wanted to be alone.

She spent her childhood surrounded by people, with a close-knit family and three siblings always there to keep her company. When she got to Maryland, Miller made two best friends that she spent all her time with. Being alone was never something she did.

But now, it was all she wanted.

Miller had a check-up for the knee injury that had nagged her all season. She no longer felt pain, so she went into the appointment as an optimist.

But her knee never healed. The stress fracture that she no longer felt was still there, and she was told she needed surgery.

She left the appointment in tears, keeping her head down and trying to get across campus as fast as possible so no one would see her and ask what was wrong.

But Miller’s quest for isolation was interrupted when she heard teammates Faith Masonius and Shyanne Sellers calling out to her.

“Diamond!” they shouted in unison. Their excitement quickly turned to concern as they saw the tears on Miller’s cheeks.

They asked what was wrong and Miller pushed them away. She needed space, or so she thought. But they wouldn’t relent.

“No,” they said, “We are driving you home.”

Miller, Shyanne Sellers and Faith Masonius have become closer as teammates and friends in the past year. (Alex Martin/Journal and Courier/USA TODAY Sports)

And so, while everything seemed to be falling apart, Miller got in the car. It was serendipitous that Sellers and Masonius were the two people there at one of her lowest points. They were her teammates, but at the time, Miller didn’t feel connected to them outside of a team setting. Soon, they would become two of her closest friends, and Masonius would even help her through physical therapy for her knee.

But when they picked Miller up that day, things were changing rapidly for the rising senior. Soon, her best friends on the team — Reese and Owusu — would announce their decisions to leave, and Miller would find herself at a crossroads.

Suddenly, nothing was going Diamond’s way, and she didn’t know how to handle it.


It wasn’t that Diamond was worried she wouldn’t recover from knee surgery, it was the missed time that scared her.

Despite all the success she’d had in basketball since she first pulled up those tie-dye knee socks, Diamond had a habit of comparing herself to those around her. She worried that while she focused on rehabbing her injury and getting healthy, everyone else in college basketball would be improving their skills. Diamond wondered if she’d be left behind.

“Everybody’s going to be above me now. I’m hurt, I can’t prove nothing for myself,” Diamond remembers thinking. “Everyone is just higher than me and better than me.”

But like the last time Diamond was forced out of her comfort zone, when her dad asked her to play for a different team, the injury had a positive impact.

It forced her to be alone with her thoughts, without the familiar sounds of sneakers on a court and dribbling basketballs. And Diamond learned to be more than just a basketball player. She loves the game so much that it consumed her, and when she couldn’t play, Diamond went through an identity crisis.

She remembers sitting in her room one day and asking herself, “Who is Diamond?”

And as she struggled to find herself, Diamond was also lonely. Her family was a phone call away, and her boyfriend was on campus with her, but Owusu and Reese — the friends that kept her smiling through the hardships — were no longer there. Owusu had transferred to Virginia Tech, and Reese had moved on to LSU. Diamond had no choice but to embrace her new circumstances.

“I found love in the loneliness of that situation,” she says.

So, while she recovered, Diamond committed to learning about herself and finding ways to love who she was off the court.

Diamond learned that she likes feeling sunshine on her face, and taking long walks with music to match whatever mood she’s in.

“I can be listening to sad songs, and still vibing and smiling,” she says with a laugh. “Or I can listen to Lil Baby and be rapping. I love a good variety.”

She learned that she likes puzzles. Her teammates tease her because she will break one out at any time of the day, even at 6 a.m.

Diamond also discovered that it wasn’t too late to form new friendships. She bonded with Sellers and Masonius, and another, unlikely person: coach Brenda Frese.

When Diamond got to Maryland, she wasn’t interested in having a relationship with Frese, other than doing what she said on the basketball court.

To people like Adreana, Diamond is playful, goofy and spirited. The kind of person that brings joy into every interaction. But to those outside of her circle, it takes longer for her to open up. And with such a strong circle of supporters, Diamond isn’t quick to let others in.

Frese had to work to connect with her star player.

“Freshman year, I didn’t even want to talk to her,” Miller says. “I didn’t want a relationship with her, but as time went on, I got more comfortable talking with her. I got to see her as a coach and a human all at once.”

Maryland coach Brenda Frese felt she had to re-recruit Miller after multiple players transferred out. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

It was the little things that made Diamond open up. Throughout the offseason, Frese was dealing with players transferring in and out. It was chaos trying to build a roster for 2022-23, but when it came to Diamond, Frese was focused on her well-being.

“She was always asking, ‘How are you? How is your knee?’” Diamond says. “And it was really important for me that she was more worried about my health.”

Over the summer, Diamond did an internship with Maryland’s Director of Basketball Operations and spent a lot of her time in the office with Frese. She had to communicate with her coaching staff in a new way, and in turn, they saw a different side of Diamond.

“It brought her out of feeling so quiet and uncomfortable,” Frese says. “She really blossomed and got comfortable with everybody.”

Diamond took her internship duties seriously. Frese was already accustomed to her intense focus and work ethic on the court, but soon discovered that Diamond carries that with her off the court as well. Even the most menial tasks were done with focus and care.

“You’re not sure how your best player is going to respond to in-house duties like that, but she was a rockstar,” Frese says. “Some people might give pushback, but she never did.”


When Owusu and Reese announced their decisions to transfer, it left Diamond as the lone starter from the 2021-22 season. With them in the transfer portal, and Chloe Bibby and Katie Benzan graduating, Diamond had no idea what the Terrapins roster would look like.

Diamond is a straight shooter. It may take a while for her to open up, but she is always honest. And honestly, she thought about leaving Maryland, too.

“I was nervous, because we weren’t really having a team,” she says. “I knew they were going to recruit really hard, but you still never know. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation, especially for my senior year, where I was struggling.

“I was definitely like, ‘Should I stay and try a new team out? Or should I leave?”

For Frese, keeping Diamond was the No. 1 priority in the offseason. She knew she’d have to build a brand-new roster, but Diamond had to be the foundation of the team.

So, she started recruiting her again.

“There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes, and her being persuaded and other teams trying to get her as well,” Frese says.

“I wasn’t just going to sit back and let other people have conversations with her behind the scenes. That’s the difference now with the portal is that it’s going on all year, and when the season ends, even more so.”

Diamond spent hours on the phone with her sisters and her parents, trying to sort out what was best for her. Ultimately, she came to a realization: No matter what she did, she would be starting over.

If she left, she would join a brand-new team, and if she stayed, a brand-new team would join her.

In countless conversations with various family members, they reminded her of one thing: The grass isn’t always greener.

“She had grown tremendously there, so why leave?” Adreana says. “At the end of the day, it’s about what you do with your opportunity, so we told her to worry less about other people and more about herself.”

Miller had a big decision to make after friends Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese left the program last year. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In conjunction with her injury recovery and navigating what she wanted for her senior year, Diamond took their advice to heart. She worried about herself. Gradually, she realized that no matter what school she was at, or how long it took her knee to heal, she would still be successful. She didn’t have to fear being left behind as other players improved. She didn’t have to look at her competitors and try to be like them.

“There are a lot of great players out there,” she said. “And they do their thing, but they don’t strive to be me. There’s a lot of talented people, and maybe I can’t do what they do, but they can’t do what I do, either. But what I can do is be the best version of myself.”

One thing Diamond didn’t have to learn was what she wanted for her future. The WNBA has long been in her sights.

Diamond is considered the No. 2 prospect on most draft boards, behind Aliyah Boston of South Carolina. She’s 6-foot-3 with a long, athletic build — the ideal body type for the WNBA — and she’s versatile on both offense and defense.

“She’s going to be a really difficult matchup at the next level,” Frese says.

For Frese, that was a key point in her re-recruitment. Maryland has a reputation for developing WNBA prospects, and every time Diamond plays, she sees scouts in the stands.

In that respect, staying was a no-brainer.

The more she thought about it, the more the rest made sense, too.

“If I left or if I stayed, I was still going to play basketball and have to play basketball at the best of my abilities,” she says.

So, Diamond embraced the unknown.

She didn’t know who would be on the team — Maryland added five transfers in the offseason — or how they would mesh together. But when Diamond decided to stay, that’s what she was signing up for, and the senior decided to go into her last season with zero expectations.

“That was so weird, but I wanted to change my thought process on how I approached the game anyway,” she says. “I put in the work, I put in the preparation, I wasn’t about to overthink it.”

With Diamond as the cornerstone, Frese rounded out the roster with transfers Brinae Alexander, Lavender Briggs, Abby Meyers, Elisa Pinzan and Allie Kubek.

Leading up to the season, the Terrapins held a team retreat. During the day, they did obstacle courses and other team-building activities, and at night they stayed up late, watching movies and talking, like an elementary school sleepover.

The Terrapins took things day by day, then week by week, then month by month. And eventually, Diamond’s re-commitment and her team’s new commitment paid off. Suddenly, Maryland was competing. Suddenly, they were beating UConn and shushing the Notre Dame crowd and rising into the top 10 of the AP Top-25 poll. And despite the odds, the Terrapins became a tight-knit squad, finishing the season at 25-7 and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament that begins Friday.

“You can see the love on the court,” Diamond says. “There is no animosity towards one another, and that is a good feeling.”

(Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

When Diamond shushed the crowd on Dec. 1, she was shushing all the doubters. The people who thought her team wouldn’t be successful without Owusu and Reese. The people who counted them out before the season even started.

It was a statement to everyone, including herself.

That she could get injured, come back and still be an elite player. That she could play with a whole new group of players and still be successful. That no matter what was happening around her, she was in control.

“At the end of the day, what was for her would be for her,” Adreana reminded her during many conversations.

Basketball was for her. Making big shots was for her. Maryland was for her.

Diamond didn’t need to go anywhere else to be successful. She didn’t need to compare herself to other players. She didn’t need to be just a basketball player.

Now, Diamond is grateful for the injury. She says God knew she needed it. Until that point, everything had been too perfect. It pushed her out of her comfort zone and reminded her of something.

No matter what’s going on around her, one thing will always be certain.

“I’m still Diamond Miller,” she says with a smile. “I’m one of a kind. There is only one of me.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.