The year was 2012.
The Indiana Fever were in a championship-clinching game once again. However, this time the Fever were on their way to taking home all the marbles for the first time in franchise history. The energy in Bankers Life Fieldhouse was palpable.
Soon enough, the clocks turned to double zeros, sealing the deal on the Fever reaching an important milestone in Indiana basketball history. The Indiana Fever were—at long last—WNBA champions. The cornerstone of the franchise, Tamika Catchings, finally led the Fever to the promised land.
“The floor felt like it was shaking, our fans were cheering so loud,” former Fever guard and current assistant coach for the Connecticut Sun Briann January said during the 10-year anniversary celebration of that magical run. “It was an environment like I’ve never been in before. To feel that support, it carried us through those Finals. We had the best fans in the league, hands down.”
Oct. 21, 2012, will forever be a day the Fever cherish. But now the Fever are looking to get back to the playoffs. It’s been a few years of misery and struggle for Indiana. As the organization looked toward the future, the need for a franchise star became the team’s priority during the offseason.
Enter Aliyah Boston.
The standout forward from South Carolina was a crucial part of the Gamecocks’ success over the last four years. Three SEC tournament titles, one national championship win, and a host of individual accolades made Boston a top prospect for many—if not all—teams in the league.
But what makes Aliyah Boston so special? And why did Indiana need to grab her with the first overall pick? It’s simple, really. Boston is the spark and culture shifter Indiana needs.
Establishing Her Own Legacy
The Indiana Fever and Catchings have been synonymous with each other since 2001. Before transitioning to the Fever’s front office staff, Catchings was Indiana’s franchise star until 2016. Her time with the Fever included three Finals appearances and the team’s first title. Indiana made the playoffs 13 times with Catchings on the roster.
Stepping into the aura of past greatness is nothing new for Boston. She set foot in Columbia, South Carolina, one year after A’ja Wilson left. In 2021, Boston’s sophomore year, an 11-foot statue of Wilson was erected just outside of Colonial Life Arena.
Coming off the heels of a legendary career like the one Wilson had while at South Carolina is something a select few could handle. But Boston was undeterred. In fact, she embraced being the following act of Wilson’s time at South Carolina.
“I just looked at coming here as like, ‘This is where I can get better,’” Boston said. “‘This is where I can get to the WNBA and this is the coach I want,'” Boston added. “I’ve made a name for myself on this campus as well. A’ja is such an amazing, talented player, but I wanted to come in and be Aliyah.”
And Aliyah she was.
It isn’t necessary to spend time comparing Boston and Wilson. Both left indelible marks on the campus of the University of South Carolina. But what’s important to note is just how crucial Aliyah was to the culture of winning down there—something the Fever have been lacking since Tamika hung up her sneakers in 2016.
A Winning Mentality
2016 was a pivotal year for the Fever. After finishing third in the Eastern Conference that year, Indiana was upset by the Phoenix Mercury in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. The Fever lost all sense of organizational direction after that abrupt end to their season.
After making the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2016, the Fever did not make it to the postseason for the first time in eight years in 2017. In fact, the team managed to win only nine games that season. But the struggles didn’t end there. Questionable roster decisions, coaching turnover, and no sense of on-court direction define the spiral Indiana has been experiencing as of late.
But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
On Nov. 11, 2022, just before Boston took the court against the then No. 17 Maryland Lady Terrapins, the Fever received the first overall pick. For the first time in franchise history, Indiana was in the top spot and had the best chance to go get a proven winner.
Boston rarely experienced the feeling of loss while in college—just nine losses to 129 wins during her career. In her final season wearing the garnet and black, she helped lead the Gamecocks to the most wins in program history, securing 36 victories. She knows how to win and what it takes to do so at a high level. Boston can bring a winning culture back to an organization that has lost its way since Catchings’ retirement.
Dominating All Areas of the Court
It’s no secret to anyone what kind of person Boston is off the court. But the player on the court is just as important, and fortunately for the Fever, Boston is one of the most talented prospects the league has seen.
And Indiana is in desperate need of Boston’s talent on defense. In recent years, the Fever’s prized defensive identity has slipped away.
“We always valued defense,” Lin Dunn, general manager of the Fever said. “We were always one of the top three or four [teams]in the league in defensive statistics. That went away. That is a piece of our identity that must come back, that must be reinforced.”
Looking at what Boston can do on the defensive side of the court, there is a lot of hope that she can help Indiana become a defensive powerhouse once again. In 2022, the Fever were second to last in defensive rebounds with 845. Boston, the four-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 6.5 defensive rebounds per game (DRPG). Her presence around the rim helped South Carolina become the third-best defensive rebounding team in the country last season.
Boston is not only good at snagging rebounds from her opponents but also adept at not allowing her opponents to even sniff the rim. Indiana was the worst team at defending the paint in 2022, allowing 41.0 points in the paint per game. A presence like Boston can help the struggles Indiana experienced in that area.
If that wasn’t enough to get fans excited, Boston is a force on offense as well.
During her career at South Carolina, Boston never averaged less than double digits in points per game (PPG). In 2022, she shot 55.9 percent from the field. In addition to putting the ball in the hoop herself, Boston also makes everyone else around her a better scorer on offense.
Boston’s offensive prowess is undoubtedly exciting for other players on Indiana’s roster. Shortly after Boston was drafted back in April, her new teammate—Fever forward NaLyssa Smith—tweeted “let’s get to work” at Boston. When Mystics guard Natasha Cloud tweeted that the new combination of Smith and Boston in Indiana was “tough,” Smith responded with “HIGH LOWWWW ALL NIGHT!!”
Smith began to find just what kind of player she could be from beyond the arc toward the end of her college career. That motivation to shoot from downtown has only increased during her time in the WNBA. In 2022, Smith shot 38.0 percent from three-point range. With Boston’s knack for finding the best shot for her team, Smith is sure to get even better looks now.
“I think we’ll have a lot of high-low situations where she can bang inside and if she don’t have it, she could kick it out,” Smith said. “I can shoot the shot or I can throw it inside. I think us just being those type of players is going to help each other out.”
Fans saw exactly what Smith was referring to during the Fever’s preseason game against the Dallas Wings. Boston draws so much attention inside that, sometimes, help defense can’t get to the guards waiting around the perimeter. This leaves shooters available to move around and find the best shot.
Finding Her Footing
It has become clear just how effective Boston is at carrying the offense during the first few games of the regular season. Boston scored 30 points and snagged 13 rebounds combined across the first two games of her career. She put up those numbers while fighting against defenders like New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones.
With that said, the most impressive thing about Boston’s professional start is how efficient she is at scoring. Per Across the Timeline, Boston is averaging about 1.29 points per shot attempt (PPSA) and 1.24 points per possession (PPP).
Her hard work on both sides of the floor was finally rewarded with a 90-87 win over the Atlanta Dream on May 28, snapping a 20-game skid.
Transitioning to the WNBA isn’t as easy as Boston has made it look three games into her rookie season. But Boston knows how to score. According to Across the Timeline, she’s the first player since Courtney Paris in 2014 to score 10 or more points on 60.0 percent shooting in their first four games. During Tuesday’s game against the Connecticut Sun, Boston scored a career-high 20 points.
Everyone around Boston benefits from her presence on the floor. She just knows what her teammates need her to do.
Expect Some Growing Pains
It’s hard not to get excited about bringing in a top-tier talent set to help rebuild the program.
However, it’s also important to note that this is a rebuild and basketball is a team sport. Like Wilson and Catchings before her, Boston provides a unique on-court skill set and off-court personality that teams can build around. The goal for the Fever is to taste the glory of winning a championship again. But the work isn’t done yet.
Christie Sides is the Fever’s third head coach since 2021. The team has a blend of youth and experience. And for much of the late 2010s, this team had no identity. It is going to take time for everything to click.
But it’s also important for the Fever to not let the privilege of having Boston as their next cornerstone go to waste. It’s a step-by-step journey back to the confetti, and Indiana must make every step count.
“We want to win games, but it’s going to be a process, and we want to make sure that we are not skipping any steps,” Christie Sides, the Fever’s head coach, told Sports Illustrated. “To be successful and have longevity and to sustain success, you can’t skip certain steps, and we won’t.”