How Aliyah Boston’s freshman season compares to A’ja Wilson, Alaina Coates

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 10: South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) blocks a shot attempt by Maryland guard Ashley Owusu (15) during first half action at Xfinity Center. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 10: South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (4) blocks a shot attempt by Maryland guard Ashley Owusu (15) during first half action at Xfinity Center. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images) /

Boston hasn’t slowed down since her dazzling debut

When South Carolina freshman forward Aliyah Boston signed with the Gamecocks in November 2018, head coach Dawn Staley said, “Aliyah is an elite talent with an extremely high ceiling and an understanding of what it takes to win. … She is a perfect fit to our already stellar class and will quickly be endeared to all of Gamecock Nation.”

Indeed, Boston has been spectacular this season as the leading scorer and rebounder for the No. 4 team in the country. But even Staley couldn’t have predicted that Boston would introduce herself to Gamecock Nation with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocks in her first college game. That performance tied the program single-game record for blocks and was just the seventh triple-double in program history.

Less than a week later, a fan tweeted at former Gamecocks star A’ja Wilson, “Is there room for a second statue next to yours?” referencing the 8-foot statue of Wilson that is slated to welcome visitors to Colonial Life Arena next season. Wilson responded, “Always!”

Soon after that, The State, a local newspaper, ran an article comparing Boston to Wilson and fellow Gamecocks alum Alaina Coates. Staley is quoted in the article giving the edge to Boston:

"“[Aliyah is] ahead of them … Here’s why: the communication piece. A’ja and Alaina [had] older players that they took the backseat to. Aliyah’s just being a leader, and she’s just calling what she sees. … I’m not even really comparing the physical and what she does, as far as the tangibles. The intangible is the thing that comes much further along in someone’s career, and she’s got it.”"

The immediate comparisons to two of the greatest players in program history could feel like a lot of pressure for any freshman. But Boston, the No. 3 overall recruit in 2019, welcomed them before the season even started. “If I put in the work, I can be as good as A’ja Wilson or even better,” Boston said in July. She added, “It just encourages me to keep working, because I see where they’re at and know where I want to be. You want to be like A’ja? You want to be as strong as Alaina Coates? Keep working and keep going.”

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Boston invited it, so High Post Hoops is delivering: here’s how she stacks up to Wilson and Coates, based purely on their numbers as freshmen.

Time on the Court: Boston takes top honors on this one as the only member of the trio to start more than one game as a freshman. She has started all 16 games and averages 23.3 minutes per game, about 3.5 minutes more than Wilson (19.8) and Coates (19.6) averaged.

To account for the fact that Boston plays slightly more minutes, the remaining categories will be judged using statistics per 40 minutes rather than per game.

Scoring: Wilson is the high scorer of the trio with 26.5 points per 40 minutes, but it’s remarkably close—Boston ranks third with 23.5. The difference comes down almost entirely to free throws: while Coates and Wilson each made seven free throws per 40 minutes on about 11 attempts, Boston is making 4.5 on just under six attempts.

When it comes to efficiency, all three players shone as freshmen, but Boston is currently the best of the bunch. She slightly edges Coates as the best shooter from the field, making 61.9%, and her 77.8% shooting from the line is over 10 percentage points better than Wilson’s or Coates’s. Boston also has the highest points per scoring attempt (PPSA) at 1.30. According to Her Hoop Stats, that ranks among the top 2% of players—of any class—in Division I so far this season. Wilson’s PPSA of 1.15, the lowest of the trio but still excellent, would rank just outside the top 10% this season.

Let’s call this category a draw between the uber-efficient Boston and the scoring champ Wilson.

Rebounding: Coates leads the way with 17.1 rebounds per 40 minutes, followed by Boston (15.3) and Wilson (13.2). Boston gets the fewest defensive rebounds of the trio, but her 7.1 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes is head and shoulders above Coates (4.9) and Wilson (4.2). Boston’s finest performance on the glass came on January 9 against Arkansas, when she pulled down a whopping 25 rebounds—10 offensive—in just 30 minutes. But despite that impressive showing, Coates gets the nod for her season-long success.

Passing: Boston takes top billing, averaging the most assists (2.2) and the fewest turnovers (1.6) per 40 minutes. Wilson averaged nearly the same number of assists as Boston but almost twice as many turnovers, while Coates’s passing game took longer to develop.

Defense: Boston stars on defense, both by blocking shots and by forcing turnovers. She averages 5.4 blocks per 40 minutes, one full block better than Coates and nearly two better than Wilson, and 2.3 steals per 40 minutes, also tops among the trio. Boston also fouls less than Coates, committing 4.2 infractions per 40 minutes to Coates’s 5.0, and has only fouled out of one game, the same number as Wilson and Coates did as rookies.

Miscellaneous: Boston’s triple-double was the first ever by a Gamecocks freshman and the program’s first since Coates recorded a ridiculous 29 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 blocks as a senior in December 2015. Boston also has six double-doubles on the year, more than halfway to Coates’s freshman program record of 10.

Overall: To summarize each player’s contributions, I gave them one point for every point, rebound, assist, steal, or block per 40 minutes and subtracted one point for every turnover or foul. While this approach is an oversimplification (and arguably penalizes fouls too harshly), it gives a more holistic view of how a player contributes to winning than looking at a single category. The takeaway is that, at least in this view, Boston produces more positives for her team and makes fewer mistakes than Wilson and Coates. Her 48.1 points for positive contributions are tied with Coates for the lead and her -5.8 points for negative contributions are the best of the group. That makes her net score of 42.3 better than Coates’s or Wilson’s (both 39.7).

Midway through her freshman season, it’s clear that Aliyah Boston will be—and is—a transcendent player for the Gamecocks. Boston is outperforming two of the greatest players in program history in Coates and Wilson, matching them in the headline categories of points and rebounds and setting herself apart with her passing and defense. Some might expect Boston’s numbers to decrease in conference play, either because of tougher competition or the infamous freshman wall that many players hit. However, South Carolina’s schedule has already been plenty tough, and Boston averaged 14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks against Maryland, Indiana, and Baylor, suggesting that she is ready for the sport’s biggest stage. Perhaps the only remaining question is, will Boston match Coates and Wilson in bringing a national title to Columbia—and maybe another statue as well?

The statistics in this article were calculated based on data from Her Hoop Stats and the South Carolina women’s basketball website. 2019-20 statistics are based on games through January 11.

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