Boston’s redemption: National player of the year delivers NCAA title to South Carolina

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    Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

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      Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

MINNEAPOLIS — Do-overs don’t always happen in sports. The shot that bounces off of the rim can be a source of sadness and despair. Anguishing is what athletes can feel when success is gone.

For South Carolina post player Aliyah Boston, it served as both motivation and aggravation. In last season’s national semifinals, her putback attempt bounced out as the buzzer sounded, eliminating the Gamecocks with a one-point loss to Stanford. The replays of her painful reaction, which saw her doubling over in emotion, have been repeated over and over. Boston did not want or need to see it again.

Now is Boston’s national championship with Gamecocks. This victory over on Sunday over

With a 64-49 victory on Sunday over UConn in which Boston had 11 points and 16 rebounds for her 30th double-double of the season and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, South Carolina completed a wire-to-wire race this season as the No. Dawn Staley, the coach of women’s college basketball won her second NCAA title.

This is the culmination a year of maturation. Boston has become the best women’s college basketball player, has improved her skills, and has realized that her voice and her status as an athlete and Black woman is something she wants to use. Boston knew that she would not miss the next chance at a national championship, despite the disappointment of her San Antonio shot.

“If you use a video that shows me crying for a long time, it’s going to fuel the fire in my heart,” Boston stated. “I don’t want anyone to ever use a photo of my crying ever again. “

After the game, Boston spotted two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker in the Target Center crowd and gave her a shoutout.

“I’m a big believer in getting back up,” said Parker, who won two NCAA titles at Tennessee. “And seeing her face last season when she missed the layup, it was like, ‘I’m sure they’re going win this year. It’s just how it works.

“There’s no experience like winning the national championship. It’s amazing to see her on a daily basis. The national championship is not tonight. It’s in June, July, August, September. She deserves all the hard work she has put in. “

South Carolina’s first title, in 2017, was both a program breakthrough and a do-over of sorts for Staley, who as a player at Virginia went to the women’s Final Four three consecutive years yet didn’t win a championship. She found relief in the gold medals she won as a USA Basketball point guard. But Staley’s unabashed glee over the Gamecocks’ first national championship — coming 25 years after her college career ended — showed she had never quite exorcised that ghost until the NCAA trophy was in her hands. For Boston, it was more of a lingering thread than a haunting. Even though the Virgin Islands native has never had to be pushed towards success, This drive came naturally.

“She was always willing to get up and go,” Al Boston, her father, said. “It didn’t matter where she practiced, she was always ready and willing. “

Cleone Boston, her mother, said, “She’s always had a determination. She has always had that. She was willing to do whatever it took. “

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South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston gives a shoutout to her idol Candace Parker, then shares a touching moment with her after the podium celebrations.

Knowing how close she was to playing for the 2021 NCAA title — after being denied a chance like everyone else when the 2020 tournament was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic — stayed in the back of Boston’s mind.

Boston, the first player to average at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in the tournament for an NCAA champion, has won every national player of the year award so far this season based on the consistency of her performance as the Gamecocks’ anchor inside on offense and defense. She could step into the WNBA right now and be a force, but at age 20, she isn’t old enough to be draft-eligible as a junior.

Reaching this level in her third college season was boosted by better diet and fitness routines, more strength training, workouts with NBA legend Tim Duncan — and last year’s memory. Even though she was unable to make the playoff, it was not without luck. It also lingered with her parents who spoke to the media at Target Center on Thursday, after Boston won her player of year hardware. Because of ongoing COVID-19 regulations during the tournament in San Antonio last year, they weren’t on hand to embrace her right after South Carolina’s loss.

” I wanted to cry. As much as I wanted …” to hug her. “But it was important to let her feel it, to feel it and to understand it. “

Cleone said, “It broke my heart. We could only pray and work through it together. But that doesn’t make it any easier. “

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The South Carolina Gamecocks defeat the UConn Huskies to win the program’s second national title.

Cleone also did what she has always done: send her daughter scripture, reminding her of the greater purpose, of feeling despair over something not working out as you hoped it would.

” Even though she missed the shot and her team lost it, Cleone stated that it had worked out for her. She would have loved to win, but it forced her to push harder, set new goals for herself, her team and work as hard as possible towards achieving them. This year speaks for itself. “

Boston set an SEC record with 27 consecutive double-doubles, and along with her player of the year honors, she also was named the Naismith defensive player of the year. Staley fought hard for Boston to win the individual honors that she did, but she also acknowledged that those weren’t very important to Boston.

Boston’s mind was so set on the championship, other things didn’t become distractions. She didn’t think only about basketball. Like her superstar predecessor at South Carolina, 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Boston also is committed to social justice and equality, and to exploring her place in the world beyond sports. Wilson stated that she had told Boston to keep being herself when she was asked for any advice. “Sometimes, people in the media try to turn players against you or make you look like this or another. That’s okay. You can’t control it. Control what you can control and be yourself. “

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South Carolina star Aliyah Boston shares her emotions after the Gamecocks defeat UConn to win the national championship.

Boston has a growing awareness of her importance in the sport, along with what she means in particular to children who watch her in Columbia, South Carolina, and back home in the Virgin Islands. Her parents laughed as they shared the story of a fourth-grader who presented on a person from the Virgin Islands that inspired them. The little girl chose Boston and dyed her hair blue to honor Boston, who is well-known for her colorful braids.

The national championship doesn’t erase 2021, but to Boston, it shows the purpose of that hill she still had to climb after the loss. Boston is much more than the ring and honors she will receive — which she can add to next season.

” I know I have a platform and that if something is wrong or not happening, then I should feel free to speak out,” Boston stated. It’s crazy because I thought, when I was in college, that if you have a large platform, you shouldn’t be the one speaking. Because everyone will have their opinions.

” But not everything will go your way every time. All things, not just sports. It’s important to be able to speak up and use one’s voice, especially if you are a person of color. “

Now, Boston is more solid than ever.

“Growing up when I first started playing basketball, my initial dream was just to go to college on a full scholarship,” Boston said. “And as I grew older and started to pay more attention to basketball, it became clear that I wanted to win a national championship. I also wanted to go to a school where my efforts are appreciated.

“Now, as a little girl [I was],, she’s probably excited because we’ve accomplished everything we wanted since childhood. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. “

ESPN’s Alexa Philippou contributed to this story.

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