Aliyah Boston South Carolina practice

Aliyah Boston South Carolina practice

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, center, listens to Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley as the players huddle before the start of the team’s first practice Oct. 14 in Columbia, S.C. The St. Thomas native was named the nation’s top center as a freshman, and earned second-team AP All-American honors.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — “I’m really just trying to improve on my inside game, and working a lot on outside of my outside game as well. And I’m also trying to become a better rebounder, especially when I get tired — just continuing to rebound the ball and be able to push it down the floor.”

With the start of the women’s college basketball season just a few weeks away, plenty of players across the country have been talking lately about the work they put in during the offseason, describing goals for the 2020-21 campaign and explaining how they’ve improved in different areas.

But those words above aren’t from a bench player hoping to work their way into the rotation, or even a starter aiming for all-conference status.

No, the player talking about improving inside and outside, especially when it comes to rebounding, is South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston ... the freshman who averaged 12.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last year, earning second-team All-American status while helping push the Gamecocks to a No. 1 ranking.

The St. Thomas native became the first player in NCAA Division I history to record a triple-double in her first career game, then matched or exceeded the rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage freshman marks of program greats like A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates.

So how does Boston, who was already named the nation’s top center last year, plan to only avoid a sophomore slump and get even better?

“I have gotten better with my inside game; I’ve gotten more aggressive and more physical, so I’m really excited about that,” Boston told reporters after the Gamecocks’ first day of preaseason practice.

The question of how young players will adjust to the physical nature of the college game is one Boston faced around this time last year. She answered it by consistently dominating the interior. According to HerHoopStats, she ranked among the top 50 players nationally in effective field goal percentage, rebounding rate and block rate.

Rebounding is an area where Boston getting even better could be key. She narrowly missed out on becoming the eighth player in program history to average a double-double over the course of a season as a freshman. And depending on how coach Dawn Staley organizes the lineup to replace the graduated Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Boston could be leaned on even more to dominate the boards.

At the same time, in an era of basketball where even post players can shoot the 3-pointer, Boston has been working to make herself even more of a threat from outside. As a freshman, she attempted 11 3-pointers, including five in one game against UConn. While she may not live outside the 3-point line this year, she hopes to be enough of a threat away from the basket that opponents will have to respect her.

“I have started to stretch out my game. I continue to work every day on dribbling the ball more and getting my outside shots going,” Boston said.

Count Staley among the believers that Boston can get even better, especially with a reliable 3-point shot. Boston shot nearly 75% from the free throw line as a freshman, a sign to many evaluators that the mechanics of her shot are sound.

“She definitely has gotten better,” Staley said. “Her outside shot is much improved, although her midrange was pretty accurate. But she’s spreading the floor a little bit more with adding a 3-point shot. And she’s been pretty efficient. I know there will be some transition when it comes to doing it in a game and doing it as consistently as she’s been doing it in practice. But it’s good to know that she doesn’t mind shooting it and she’s accurate doing it, and she takes good shots.” South Carolina’s 2020-21 schedule will be released in the coming weeks, with the Gamecocks expected to begin with a Nov. 25 game.

Boston enters her sophomore season with high expectations — expectations Staley and the Gamecocks aren’t backing down from.

“I don’t know if there’s another player in college women’s basketball that can do the things that Aliyah does at her size, her ability, her agility, her court awareness, her intellect,” Staley said. “If she’s not in the conversation of being Player of the Year, you’re reading it wrong, you have blinders on.”