WORCESTER – Perspective is a funny thing.
Back in May of 2016, Worcester Academy basketball player Aliyah (pronounced Ah-Lee-Yah) Boston, just 14 years old at the time, traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo. – on her own dime — to try out for USA Basketball Women’s U17 team. Boston did well, becoming the youngest player ever to make the cut to 14. When the team was cut to 12 however, Boston was not on the final roster.
That didn’t seem to matter in the girls’ and women’s basketball world. Folks were too busy marveling at how the outgoing and always smiling 6-foot-3 prep school freshman — who didn’t even make her league all-star team — hung with the older girls. Division 1 college coaches at the tryouts were frantically Goggling Worcester, which they undoubtedly spelled, and pronounced, “Worchester” or “Worsester” to download the Hilltoppers’ schedule.
Aliyah Boston may not have made the U17 team, but she had arrived.
Not in her mind, however.
“I felt really said after the tryout that I didn’t make the team,” said Boston, who is now 6-4. “I never wanted to feel that way again. I told myself to keep working hard so that next time I tried out – because I knew I was coming back to try out again – I made it.
“I told myself after the U17 tryout, ‘I never again want to not make a team I try out for,’” Boston continued.
Make no mistake however, Boston had most definitely arrived. She was just beginning to receive the exposure as a basketball player that she – and her family – sought when she and her older sister Lexi moved to Worcester from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands back in 2014.
Lexi and Aliyah Boston relocated to Worcester without parents Cleone and Al, moving in with Cleone’s sister – their aunt – Jenaire Hodge, who lives in Worcester.
“I started playing basketball when I was nine,” Boston said. “My sister was just starting to get into sports and she started playing basketball. Since she was my big sister I wanted to do anything that she was doing, so I started playing basketball, too.”
The competition back in the Virgin Islands was limited, to say the least.
“When we lived in St. Thomas they weren’t many basketball teams. My sister and I played in a league where we were the only girls on our team. We might have been the only girls in the league,” Boston said. “I was excited that I was playing against the guys and doing OK, holding my own. I used to be in the paper all the time in St. Thomas; that was a really big deal to me. My mom, though, she used to tell me, ‘until you make the papers in the states, you haven’t really made it. So, don’t get too high.’”
Boston said the attention given to local players in the U.S. Virgin Islands has improved since she and her sister moved to Worcester, primarily because lots of folks from the states have moved there; folks who know how popular and how widely followed girls’ and women’s basketball is ‘in the states.’
“Those people, who went to college in the states, are transferring their kids to schools here in the states because they recognize the exposure that’s available,” Boston said. “By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to play basketball at the highest level and I knew that was in the states.”
So, while the Boston sisters were contemplating just how to propose to their parents a move to the states, her parents came to them and suggested a move to Worcester, where they could live with Hodge and play basketball here.
The sisters moved to Worcester in 2014 and enrolled at Holy Name. Lexi was in the 10th grade, Aliyah the eighth grade. Lexi Boston stayed at Holy Name, graduating in June, while Aliyah Boston transferred to Worcester Academy at the beginning of her freshman year.
“Initially (we came to Worcester) for basketball, but it became about academics for me,” Boston said. “Maybe it was because I was young, but in the eighth grade I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough, academically. Coach (Dan) Nagle was the coach at Worcester Academy at the time and saw me play and he invited me to visit the campus.
“I really liked the academic offerings here at Worcester Academy. It was the academics here that made me ultimately decide to transfer to Worcester Academy,” Aliyah Boston said, “and I do feel like I’m being pushed more, academically, here.”
Boston said it was hard leaving St. Thomas for Worcester.
“It was very hard,” she said. “Even though I came here with my sister, my parents are still down there, as well as all my family and all my friends. So that’s hard. But I’m adjusting. It gets a little easier every day.”
Boston said she’s undecided what she’ll study when she gets to college but she is interested in the fields of law and communications.
“I know they’re very different but I love both,” she said.
A communications degree would help Boston get into a field like media relations, where she could work in athletics at a college or university or even in the front office of a professional sports team. Boston said she might like to give sports announcing a try, too.
Upon arriving in Worcester Boston hooked on with the Worcester Sting, an AAU team coached by former Holy Name standout Diago McClain. Looking for a more national AAU tournament schedule Boston soon joined the AAU team iExcel, which operates out of the New York/New Jersey area and is coached by Walter Welsh. The iExcel team plays a national schedule, often attending tournaments located in Las Vegas, Florida, Atlanta and Texas.
Boston’s stock has done nothing but rise since she crashed the party that was the U17 National Team tryouts in the spring of her freshman year. Last year, in helping lead Worcester Academy to a 19-3 mark she averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals a game.
For her efforts as a sophomore Boston, who wasn’t even a league all-star as a freshman, was named the Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
This year, in helping the Hilltoppers start the season 11-0, Boston is averaging 24 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assists per game. She is among the top recruits in the nation among girls who will graduate in 2019. Some publications have her ranked as high as the fourth overall recruit, while others rank her as the No. 1 recruit among post players.
“Aliyah is an extraordinary person. I always say that first because it’s rare when you have someone whose character matches their talent level. Aliyah is one of those rare people,” said Sherry Levin, now in the second year of her second stint as Worcester Academy’s girls’ basketball coach. “Her talent level is through the roof but she is not only one of the most talented players, but she truly is a genuine human being and a quality person.
“She is a great teammate. She is very coachable; she is always looking to learn,” Levin continued. “She gives solid input on what’s going on out on the floor during games. She is very mature for her age. She is going to make some college program really happy.”
Levin said the Hilltoppers’ offense runs through Boston.
“She is very unselfish when she needs to be,” Levin said. “She understands her role as being one of the top players. I can’t say enough about her character and her skills.”
In Worcester Academy’s most recent victory, 61-57, over St. Andrew’s School of Barrington, R.I., Boston had another impressive stat line – 25 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists – but it was the effortless way in which she played that was impressive.
With the score tied, 57-57, with less than a minute left to play, Boston gathered in an entry pass on the left block and wheeled into the lane and calmly swished a 6-foot, turn-around jumper that gave Worcester Academy the lead for good, 59-57. On St. Andrew’s School’s ensuing possession Boston grabbed a key rebound to limit St. Andrew’s to one shot. Back in the offensive end she pulled down an offensive rebound and passed it out to a teammate, who canned a jumper to account for the 61-57 final.
Aliyah has a tremendous ability to make her teammates better,” Levin said. “When she gets the ball and she’s double-teamed she does a great job of finding her open teammate; it’s a drill we work on every day in practice. She sees the floor very well, she’s really unselfish and she embraces the role of being a leader on the team.”
During the entire final minute of Saturday’s game, and the 31 that came before it, Boston’s demeanor never changed. There was no way to tell if she was having a good game or a bad game. No way to tell if she had scored 5 points or 25 points.
Boston said she enjoys playing for coach Levin.
“I love it. She’s a great coach as far as Xs and Os go, but she’s a great coach off the court, too,” Boston said. “If I have any questions, if I need anything, I can always go to her.”
Boston’s play, starting at the U17 tryouts two years ago, had gotten the attention of every major Division 1 college and most of the mid-majors as well. Some lower-level Division 1 schools have shown interest as well, no doubt playing the “come to a smaller, quieter place to get a high-level education and Division 1 basketball experience in an intimate bucolic college setting.
Beginning with the first game of her sophomore year there has been at least one college coach at all of her games. Jeff Walz, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville, attended Saturday’s game against St. Andrew’s, sitting in the front row of the bleachers, right at half court.
When asked about the college recruiting wars that are going on to procure her services, Boston just smiled.
“I’m just enjoying the process right now,” she said. “I have a list of 10 schools that I’m considering.”
Boston, who had made unofficial visits to both Louisville and the University of Connecticut, said she plans to take her official visits after this season ends. She declined to reveal the schools on her list, saying she preferred to keep it in the family for now.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of the big Division 1 schools; a lot of them have shown interest in recruiting me,” said Boston, who was surprised to hear that many people believe that she is headed to UConn. “All I can tell you is nothing has been decided yet.”
Boston said she hopes to decide on where she will continue her education by the early signing period next year. She doesn’t know if she will verbally commit to a school before the early signing period.
“Right now I’m not sure about that,” she said. “Right now I just want to go through the process and take my time because wherever I decide to go, I’m going to spend the next four years. So, I want to make sure I make the right decision.”
She said her college decision will be based on athletics as well as academics.
“Basketball is going to end at some point so I do want to have a strong academic base to fall back on,” Boston said. “That will be a very important component to it.”
As far as going from just another freshman one year to the Gatorade Player of the Year the following season, Boston had a simple explanation.
“I just worked hard,” she said. “After the U17 tryouts I knew I could play at (the national) level, but I knew I needed to keep working hard. I started working on a whole lot of things – my outside game, my mid-range game, my dribbling.”
In June Boston played for USA Basketball in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, earning MVP honors for the tournament while helping her team to the gold medal. The tournament was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The USA team won each of its games in the tournament by at least 50 points. The coach of the team was former Oxford High and UConn standout Carla Berube.
Boston couldn’t decide when asked which part of the game of basketball she liked best.
“I love it all. I love blocking shots, but I also love scoring the basketball, and I love playing defense, too,” Boston said. “I also love getting offensive rebounds because I work really hard on the offensive end to get in position. A rebound is like a reward for working hard.”
While she’s known across the Worcester Academy campus as Aliyah, in St. Thomas she is better known as “Peaches” a nickname her father, Al, gave her at the time of her birth.
“I was born two weeks early and when I was born, I was really red,” Boston explained. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘she looks like a peach.’ And ever since then my dad has called me Peaches. I’ll call home and my mom will answer the phone, ‘hi Peaches.’ Some people call me Aliyah, some people call me Peaches. I’m good with either.”