Aliyah Boston said she usually keeps it cool when she faces the star basketball players she grew up watching on television. But her poker face slipped last month.
Boston, a rookie power forward and center for the Indiana Fever, was in a close contest against the Las Vegas Aces and she was shoulder to shoulder with her childhood idol, Candace Parker.
“It was unreal,” Boston said. “We’re standing on the free-throw line, cracking jokes. And I’m like: ‘Aliyah, don’t laugh. This is serious business.’”
Fifteen years ago, when Boston was just 6 years old, Parker won the W.N.B.A.’s Rookie of the Year Award. Now Boston is on track to do the same.
She was the first rookie to be named a starter for the W.N.B.A. All-Star Game in nine years and only the eighth rookie ever. The achievement added to what has been an impressive season for Boston, who is drawing comparisons to greats like Brittney Griner, A’ja Wilson and Elena Delle Donne just weeks into her professional career.
“She’s going to be a great one,” said Aces Coach Becky Hammon, who also coached Boston in the All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Saturday. “Indiana has a centerpiece, literally a center piece to build around.”
Boston is averaging 15.4 points per game, the most of any first-year player, and she is shooting a league-leading 61 percent from the field. The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Boston has swept rookie of the month award honors so far this season.
“I never thought I’d be an All-Star my rookie season,” Boston said on Saturday. “It’s just a blessing to be in this position right now.”
Boston exudes confidence. As the All-Star lineups were announced, she danced out onto the stage to the delight of her veteran teammates. And she is poised on the court. With her Indiana Fever down 3 to the Liberty last week, Boston knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Liberty eventually won, 95-87.
“She is going through uncharted territory a little bit,” Liberty forward Breanna Stewart said, “but still making sure that she’s able to have an impact on the court and play her game.”
Boston is known for having an impact. While playing for Coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina, Boston was a four-time all-American and set several team records, including in rebounds, double-doubles and triple-doubles. In 2021, she led the Gamecocks to their second N.C.A.A. Division I title in program history. Now she’s trying to make her mark on a Fever team that has struggled for years. Wins are still hard to come by, but Boston has already proved her value.
“It’s a smooth transition for her,” Staley said. “She makes it look easy. And I know it’s not.”
That transition from college to the W.N.B.A. includes myriad challenges, from the pace of play to the constant travel to the increased physicality, said Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 draft pick in 2020.
“It’s hard, and hats off to her and the entire Indiana organization for helping her do what she does,” Ionescu said. “That’s why they drafted her at 1, because they know what she’s capable of doing.”
Boston said her basketball I.Q. is the main skill that has translated from college to the pros. Staley agreed.
“She makes the right basketball decisions,” Staley said. “And when you’ve played that way your entire life, nothing changes. It’s only the people that change.”
One of the new people Boston has faced is Delle Donne, who was named the rookie of the year in 2013. Delle Donne said that one of the trickier aspects of joining the league is how quickly players need to get used to a new program, new coach and new teammates, but said that none of that seems to have slowed down Boston. Last month, against Delle Donne’s Washington Mystics, Boston scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Fever’s 87-66 win.
“She’s so dominant,” Delle Donne said. “I mean, she crushed us the other game. She’s a rookie that requires veteran defensive schemes.”
Delle Donne added that it can be hard to manage the pressure of coming in as the No. 1 overall pick. Last season, the Fever finished at the bottom of the 12-team league with a 5-31 record.
“To know the expectation that you’re supposed to come and completely change a team is hard, but you can do it,” Delle Donne said. “Coming into the league, there’s always so much excitement about a new player who’s going to continue to raise our game and make it even better. So night in and night out, people are watching what you’re doing.”
For now, Boston seems unfazed by the attention.
“Something that I always take with me is, never get too high with the highs and too low with the lows,” Boston said. “Stay levelheaded.”