- For nearly a decade, the Indiana Fever have been among the worst teams in the WNBA.
- Despite its on-court struggles, the franchise never earned a No. 1 WNBA Draft pick — until now.
- The Fever’s presumptive prize — South Carolina star Aliyah Boston — is worth the excruciating wait.
The stars are finally aligning for the Indiana Fever.
“It’s about damn time,” General Manager Lin Dunn said.
Considered one of the weakest teams in the WNBA for the past several years, Indiana has not put together a winning regular season since 10-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings was the face of the franchise. In the six years since their legendary forward stepped off the hardwood for the final time, the Fever have amassed a paltry 45-147 record and have only once won more than 10 games in a season.
Indiana’s on-court struggles haven’t translated to franchise-changing draft picks
Unsurprisingly, the Fever have failed to qualify for the playoffs ever since Catchings’ retirement. But even despite their on-court woes — which brought them to the WNBA Draft Lottery in each of the past six years — the Fever never earned the top overall pick. In fact, not once in the franchise’s entire 22-year existence had the team selected first in the draft.
In all but one of the last six seasons, Indiana had the best or second-best odds to land the No. 1 selection. Instead, they finished with two No. 2 picks, two No. 3 picks, and a No. 4 pick; only two of the players selected with said picks remain with the Fever today: Kelsey Mitchell (2018) and NaLyssa Smith (2022).
But on Friday, Indiana’s unlucky streak came to a screeching halt. At long last, the perennial bottom-dwellers of the league earned their highly coveted No. 1 overall pick for the 2023 WNBA Draft.
And the presumptive prize awaiting head coach Christie Sides’ squad may very well have been worth the excruciating years-long wait.
Aliyah Boston has dominated both sides of the ball in three years of college basketball
A 6-foot-5 senior at the University of South Carolina, Aliyah Boston has taken over the NCAA ever since she first suited up for the Gamecocks. The Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, native has averaged an incredibly efficient double-double on her career and added 2.5 blocks per game to boot.
During her junior season — her best yet — Boston broke the record long held by WNBA legend Sylvia Fowles for most consecutive double-doubles in the SEC. She finished the year with a Division I-leading 30 double-doubles and, unsurprisingly, swept the postseason awards as the consensus National Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
But her most impressive piece of hardware came at tournament time, when she led South Carolina to its second-ever national championship and earned NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors for her historic efforts. The two-time first-team All-American’s 16.8 points and 15.2 rebounds per game through March Madness made her the first player ever to average 15 and 15 for the eventual title-winning team, per ESPN Stats & Info.
It’s no wonder than Geno Auriemma, the 11-time national championship-winning coach of the UConn Huskies, called Boston “the hardest person in America to guard,” as well as “the most important person in the country in terms of what she does for her team.”
“She scores if there’s one, two, three, four people on her,” Auriemma said ahead of facing Boston in the 2022 NCAA title game. “It doesn’t matter. She’s able to carve out the space she wants. She gets the ball on the rim whenever she wants. She rebounds whichever ball she goes after. She just has a knack.
“How do we guard her? I don’t know,” he added. “I’m open for suggestions.”
Perhaps most terrifying for any coach not named Dawn Staley, Boston will only get better from here.
Could Boston be the messiah the Fever have been waiting for?
Boston’s senior season has started out even more impressive than her junior year did. Shooting a whopping 76.9% from the field, she’s put up back-to-back double-doubles — one of which came in the top-ranked Gamecocks’ 25-point win against the No. 17 Maryland Terrapins.
The reigning player of the year is bound to keep up the momentum in hopes of helping South Carolina repeat as national champions before she moves on to the pros. Boston previously confirmed to Insider that the 2022-23 season is “gonna be my last year” with the Gamecocks, adding that “it’s definitely gonna be a special one” and that she and her teammates intend to “give it everything we got.”
Barring a catastrophe, Boston will be the top pick in the WNBA draft next spring. And if her game carries over to the pros the way most anticipate that it could, she will have a massive, immediate impact on the team that undoubtedly needs it most.
Indiana’s leadership knows it to be true — and they celebrated accordingly once news of the opportunity to pick Boston came over the airwaves:
—Indiana Fever ⛹️♀️🏀 (@IndianaFever) November 12, 2022
The 2023 WNBA Draft is scheduled for April 10, just eight days after this season’s NCAA championship game. If things go according to plan, Boston will have a thrilling few weeks next spring.