NEW YORK — The Indiana Fever made it official and selected former National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft on Monday night at Spring Studios.
The South Carolina center is the team’s first No. 1 selection in league history after the Fever won the lottery for the first time in November. She is the second No. 1 pick out of South Carolina, joining reigning Las Vegas Aces champion A’ja Wilson in 2018.
Boston joins a young squad that includes four 2022 first-round picks and former teammate Destanni Henderson, who was selected in the second round of last year’s draft. They won the 2022 national championship together at South Carolina.
Fever general manager Lin Dunn told reporters on a conference call Thursday that she had watched the 6-foot-5 Boston carefully this season and applauded her size, basketball IQ, character and leadership skills.
“She just brings an enormous amount to the table, and I really think she’s going to have — whether she’s picked first, second or third, she’s going to have an immediate impact on this league,” Dunn said. “And I’m just thankful — I think we all are — that she opted to come into the draft and didn’t use her fifth COVID year. It makes this draft a lot stronger, as well as the rest of the South Carolina players coming in.”
Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere, Kierra Fletcher and Victaria Saxton also opted in to the draft out of South Carolina. All except Fletcher were on the 2022 championship team.
The Fever also hold the No. 7 overall pick in the first round, plus picks 13, 17 and 25.
Aliyah Boston’s legacy at South Carolina
Boston is the most decorated player in program history and was part of the incredible 2019 recruiting class that went 129-9 in their four-year careers. They reached the Final Four all three years available (the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were ranked No. 1 at the time) and won the 2022 national title. Boston was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four averaging 17 points, 17 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 blocks a game.
Over her career, she started all 138 contests and averaged 14.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game facing double- and triple-teams and various junk defenses. Analysts, as well as South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, are excited to see what Boston can do in the WNBA where there’s a defensive three-second rule that will open up her game.
She was named the program’s first National Freshman of the Year in 2020 and earned National Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022 and ’23. She swept the Lisa Leslie Award for the nation’s best center and Associated Press All-America honors all four years. Boston is the fifth player in AP All-America history to do so.
In SEC play, she became the first to win the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award four times and holds the conference record with 15 career weekly honors as well as 10 career player of the week recognitions.
Boston also leaves South Carolina with numerous records, led by most rebounds (462), double-doubles (30) and consecutive double-doubles (27) in a season. She also holds five single-game records.
Indiana’s long rebuild
The Fever have been in rebuild mode for a minute (or three or four) now and have not made the WNBA playoffs since 2016 when Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings was still playing. The league’s postseason includes eight of the 12 teams. They have had only one season since their 2012 Finals victory in which they finished the regular season above .500. That was their run to the Finals in 2015. And they haven’t won more than six games since 2019, when they went 13-21.
Indiana will be led by its fourth coach since 2016 after Christie Sides was hired to the position in November. Sides previously worked as an assistant coach for the franchise from 2017-19 and was an assistant for the Atlanta Dream last season. Adding Boston could be the franchise cornerstone the Fever need to start climbing back into postseason contention.
Boston would likely slot in as the starting center, a position held by 2022 first-round pick Queen Egbo out of Baylor. She’ll help the team’s second-worst defensive rebounding rate and overall rebounds per game that’s only ranked 10th because of their second-best 9.8 offensive rebounds per game, per Her Hoop Stats. Her ability to protect the rim will help solidify the defense, a target area for Dunn dating back to last year’s draft. The Fever were 5-31 last season and ranked dead last offensively and defensively, in both points and rating.
There are already 14 players listed on the team’s roster with a maximum of 12 spots by season’s tip on May 19. Many keep the minimum of 11 because of salary cap concerns. All but four of those rostered players are entering their second seasons. The rest of the most-used starting lineup includes sixth-year guard Kelsey Mitchell, second-year forward NaLyssa Smith and fifth-year guard Victoria Vivians. The Fever traded starting guard Danielle Robinson for Dream guard Kristy Wallace.