South Carolina Gamecocks phenom Aliyah Boston opens up about her admiration for Dawn Staley and her dreams of growing the game for women and girls.
The South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team first took the court 99 years ago in 1923, but the modern era of play began in 1974. In all that time, and after two decades in the SEC, the Lady Gamecocks have finally become an insurmountable force, winning their first two NCAA Championships within a span of five years.
The credit for the formidable program goes to everything head coach Dawn Staley has built in her 14 years as head coach of the Gamecocks. The credit, too, goes to the high-caliber players who commit to South Carolina in hopes of winning a championship. In 2022, those hopes were realized, and there was one major player contributing to this year’s win: Aliyah Boston.
Before March Madness gripped the nation, FanSided’s Ethan Lee predicted exactly why the Gamecocks would win with Boston on their side.
"“Boston, a fantastically talented 6-foot-5 junior, is South Carolina’s leading scorer. With 16.8 points per game, she’s definitely someone that other teams need to try and slow down.However, Boston does more than just put up points. At the same time that she leads South Carolina in scoring, Boston also leads the Gamecocks in blocks (80), steals (40), and rebounds (371). Oh, and it’s worth noting that she also has 60 assists on the season. Boston does a little bit of everything and isn’t just someone any team can overlook.”"
It may be surprising, then, to learn that Aliyah Boston once played as the only girl on her basketball team.
Aliyah is from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where there are few basketball programs available to girls at a young age. When Aliyah saw her older sister, Alexis, embrace the game, so did she, and Aliyah has graced the court ever since she was nine years old.
ESPN visited Aliyah at home on St. Thomas to offer a glimpse into her life on the island. While Aliyah’s family and friends make it clear she’s always been a star, it’s also clear that it was challenging for a talent like Aliyah to develop in the game and stay home. As a teenager, Aliyah had to make a difficult choice: if she wanted to shine in basketball, she would have to move to the United States and play for a bigger audience and a bigger infrastructure to recruit her for collegiate hoops. Aliyah left home to live with her aunt in Massachusetts, and she eventually caught Dawn Staley’s eye. The rest is NCAA history.
“We want that, when the world hears her story and sees where she came from, that they’re gonna know there’s so many more Aliyahs on this island,” said Cleone Boston, Aliyah’s mom.
UnderArmour believed in Cleone’s message, and they believed in Aliyah. That’s why the renowned sports equipment company is helping Aliyah bring girls’ basketball to the island like never before.
This year, UA is partnering with Aliyah Boston as they launch the first-ever UA Next women’s basketball camp in St. Thomas, VI. According to the company, “the camp will bring high school athletes access to equipment, coaching, and facilities later this summer.”
Aliyah wouldn’t be a budding basketball legend if she didn’t have a basketball shoe created in her likeness, which is why she is the face of UA’s Breakthru 3 Women’s Basketball Shoe, which will be debuting this fall. And this partnership is only the beginning: Aliyah will be involved in designing basketball wear for the next generation of girls in the game.
Between college finals and changing the world, Aliyah spoke with FanSided about where she finds inspiration and her dream of changing the game for girls in St. Thomas and beyond.
FanSided: You proudly represent St. Thomas and the U.S. Virgin Islands as “the most decorated high school athlete to come from the Virgin Islands.” With your talent and passion for the game came overwhelming support from your family and community, but it also came at a cost: you had to leave the island in order to play competitively in the United States. When you think back on your childhood, what does this UA Camp mean to you and the young girls who want to play in St. Thomas today?
Aliyah Boston: It means a lot to be able to put on this camp with the help of UA. I hope that the young girls and boys who want to play in St. Thomas know that it takes a lot of hard work, but all of their goals can be accomplished. They need to have faith in God and know that He will guide their steps and they should keep working.
FanSided: Dawn Staley is an icon in women’s basketball, and you caught her eye as she recruited you to play for South Carolina. And in a similar way to you, Dawn also faced challenges in playing the game she loved. When she played at the pinnacle of the game in the 1990s, there was no WNBA: Dawn won an Olympic gold medal for Team USA in 1996 before having her chance to play in the league and make the Hall of Fame. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from Dawn, both as a basketball coach and when you look at her own illustrious career?
Boston: I’ve learned a lot from Coach Staley as a basketball player and a Black woman. Coach Staley has been so successful in her career on and off the court. As a player, she has accomplished everything that great basketball players want to. She has taught me how to be mentally stronger and off the court, she has taught me how to be confident and proud to be a Black woman.
FanSided: After winning the NCAA championship, I imagine you had many companies reaching out to you for a partnership. What about Under Armor stood out to you? Why did you decide to partner with them?
Boston: Working with Under Armour is a huge honor. It means so much to me because it’s a brand I’ve been wearing for years! I love rocking all sorts of UA apparel and sneakers, both for cross-training and when I’m on the court. I’m most excited to work with Under Armour to continue building and growing the women’s basketball community. I’m really looking forward to giving more young girls access to the sport at the community level.
FanSided: It is well-known that women’s basketball players are treated differently than their male counterparts as far as equipment, travel, expenses and media coverage go. During the pandemic, WNBA players documented their living conditions in the bubble, and it was starkly different from that of NBA players.
You and Under Armour are launching the first-ever UA Next women’s basketball camp in your hometown, and it will bring high school athletes access to equipment, coaching, and facilities. This is huge! But tell me: why was bringing this camp to your hometown important for you, and in doing so, do you feel you are doing your part to break this societal cycle of treating women’s basketball differently than men’s?
Boston: This is so important to me because I’m really passionate about inspiring and helping the next generation pursue their athletic dreams. It starts small by helping young athletes in underserved communities – by offering coaching, courts, balls, teaching new drills, introducing young girls to others who have similar interests, and more. That’s what we’re seeking to do via a UA Next Camp in my hometown of St. Thomas this Summer.
FanSided: In the 50 years since Title IX, women’s basketball programs have grown exponentially, expanding all the way into an NCAA March Madness Tournament that the Gamecocks dominated without question. As we look towards the future, what do you feel is crucial in the growth of women’s basketball at the youth level, the collegiate level, and the professional level?
Boston: I want to see women’s basketball be embraced, covered and valued just as much as men’s basketball. I hope to help achieve that change by continuing to dominate the court and using my voice to encourage the next generation to play.
FanSided: This UA partnership signifies something we all know: you are becoming one of the biggest faces in basketball. And thankfully, more and more companies are putting women’s basketball players front and center to represent their brands. As you move forward in your career, who are some of the women in the game that you aspire to emulate, both on the court and as entrepreneurs?
Boston: One of the women I look up to is Serena Williams. She has been so successful as an entrepreneur and developing multiple businesses and running it while being one of the best athletes in the world.
FanSided: What do you envision the impact of your journey with Under Armour to become, both for you personally and for the young girls and women who attend your camp?
Boston: I mainly want my work with Under Armour to encourage young female athletes to always trust their instincts and have fun; to surround themselves with people who will push them to be great and be sure to lean on their support system, whether that be faith, family, friends, coaches or teammates. Personally, I want to be regarded and remembered as a role model for young female athletes. I want my legacy to be one of hope and change. When they hear my name, I want people to think, ‘Aliyah Boston changed the game of basketball.’