Fever's Aliyah Boston wins WNBA Rookie of the Year: 'In a category with the all-time greats'

Every time Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides is asked about rookie Aliyah Boston, she calls on one word.

“Aliyah is special,” Sides said. “She's just a great human being and wants nothing more than to win every game, regardless if she gets her two touches or 20 touches. If we win, that's all she cares about.”

Boston already won the Associated Press Rookie of the Year last month, but the WNBA made it official on Monday; she was unanimously named the WNBA Rookie of the Year by a 60-member media panel, making her the second Fever player in franchise history to win the award (Tamika Catchings being the other).

She is one of five players in the WNBA to be named the rookie of the year unanimously, joining Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, and A'ja Wilson.

"That's is a powerful group right there," Boston said on Monday following the announcement. "I am so honored and blessed to have my name amongst them, but really, they are tremendous players. Players that we all look up to, not just me, but really everyone, so it's really nice to be one of those names."

Boston broke all kinds of records, franchise and league, in her first year in the WNBA. On the floor, she led all rookies with an average of 15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 31.2 minutes per game.

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The rookie set multiple Fever franchise records with 335 total rebounds and 50 blocks, and her 578 points in a season was second to Catchings.Her 335-rebound mark is good for second in league history for a rookie, and she sits third in rookie field goals made with 233

Across the entire league, Boston shot 57.8% from the field in 2023, becoming the first rookie in WNBA history to lead in shooting percentage.

“She's in a category with the all-time greats already as a rookie,” Fever general manager Lin Dunn said. “She's broken some of Tamika Catchings rookie records, and she may be generational; she may be something that comes along once in a franchise lifetime. We've been very fortunate having Tamika Catchings, and now we have someone like Aliyah Boston.”

As soon as the Fever won the lottery on Nov. 11, 2022 Dunn knew she was going to choose Boston with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.

“There wasn't any doubt in our mind that she was the No. 1 pick,” Dunn said. “Once we won the lottery and had the No. 1 pick, we were really focused on Aliyah. And after talking to (South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley) and after Christie spoke with Aliyah herself, we realized what an exceptional person we were getting.”

Still, it took some convincing for Boston to want to come to Indiana. Because of COVID-19, Boston technically had an extra year of eligibility to return to South Carolina in 2023-24 if she wanted to. What ensued was a recruiting period of sorts, when Dunn and Sides (who was a new coach at the time) made trips to Columbia to talk to Boston in person.

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Boston didn’t officially make up her mind until the end of South Carolina’s 2022-23 season – less than two weeks before the WNBA Draft. After the Gamecocks lost in the Final Four, Boston officially decided to forego her fifth year of eligibility and enter the draft, cementing her future with the Indiana Fever.

“This was a goal of mine, a dream of mine, since I started playing basketball,” Boston said. “I feel like I keep saying that, but that’s the base of it; this is something I’ve wanted to do, so when it came to the option of going pro or not, in the back of my mind that (the WNBA) is something I’ve always wanted to do … it means a lot to say you’re one of 144 women athletes that play this sport.”

Then, her rookie season became something Indiana hasn’t seen since 2002, when Catchings started in the league.

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An exceptional rookie year

Boston did not waste any time making her presence known at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. She nearly produced a double-double in her first game as a pro May 19, registering 15 points and nine rebounds in just under 25 minutes.

The Fever lost to the Connecticut Sun, 70-61, but Boston’s big night was an early indicator of her dominance to come through the rest of the season.

She took home her first accolade just two weeks into the season, being named the WNBA Rookie of the Month for May while averaging 15.8 points per game. Boston went on to also be named the WNBA Rookie of the Month for June and August, nearly sweeping the monthly awards (Minnesota’s Diamond Miller won rookie of the month in July).

Boston became the eighth rookie in the WNBA’s 27-year history to be an All-Star starter.

“It’s really special,” Boston said in July. “Sometimes, there’s not enough words, or words you can even say because the feeling is just unmatched. I never thought in my rookie season that I would be an All-Star, let alone an All-Star starter, just because of the amount of talented women I’m surrounded by, but it’s a great feeling.”

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Boston was just one month into the season when she was picked as an All-Star starter. One month into her professional career, she became the obvious pillar of the Fever’s rebuild.

“She’s going to be a great one,” reigning WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon said of coaching Boston in the All-Star game “Already, what coach Sides has done in Indiana, the culture and everything she’s trying to build there, and you’ve got a centerpiece, literally a center piece, to build around.”

Boston at the helm — with the help of six-year veteran Kelsey Mitchell and second-year forward NaLyssa Smith — pushed the Fever to new heights. With 13 wins in 2023, the Fever more than doubled their victories from 2022 and 2021 combined.

Now, with a year of experience under her belt, Boston can improve for 2024 and beyond.

“I had a great first season,” Boston said. “I don’t have any complaints about it, it was great to be here and learn and accomplish something I’ve always dreamt of, but it was really exciting.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Fever's Aliyah Boston wins 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year