Where will Aliyah Boston take her two gold medals next?
Aliyah Boston was 12 when she left her parents behind in paradise and followed her 15-year-old sister to their aunt's house.
Goodbye, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. So long, backyard with the coconut tree that Aliyah ran over while learning to drive. Hello, 3,000-mile journey to Massachusetts to chase a basketball dream. Hello, frigid air.
"The weather that first year was really bad," Boston said. "But it no longer fazes me. To me, when the cold arrives, it just means it's basketball season, and it's time to ball up."
Boston, a 6-foot-4 senior center at Worcester Academy, is the No. 3 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2019 class. She has already won two gold medals for Team USA. She was named to the all-tournament team at the FIBA U17 World Cup this past summer. In 2017, she was named MVP of the FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
Boston also has led Worcester Academy (Massachusetts) to a 42-4 record the past two seasons, winning a pair of Massachusetts Gatorade player of the year awards.
As a junior, she averaged 21.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, 6.2 blocks and 2.5 assists and led Worcester to the New England Prep School Athletic Council Class AA championship.
"Aliyah has amazing potential and gifts," said Worcester coach Sherry Levin, who brings back every player from last season's championship team. "And what's really exciting for any coach who works with her is that she's not a finished product. Her ceiling is really high."
Boston, who has fought off double- and triple-teams in high school and with her iExcel AAU team, has narrowed her list of college choices to Connecticut, Notre Dame, Ohio State and South Carolina.
"Someone like Aliyah," Levin said, "doesn't come along very often."
A new home
Aliyah and big sister Alexis do not come from a prominent athletic family. Their dad, Al, is 6-1 and played sports recreationally. Their mom, Cleone, is also 6-1 but said she was "too timid" to play sports as a kid.
"That's why we've encouraged our girls to try whatever sport they like," Cleone said. "I wished I had someone to push me when I was younger."
Tennis was the first sport Aliyah and Alexis tried. But that was replaced by basketball, a sport Aliyah first tried at age 9. At that time, she could only find leagues with all-boys teams.
"That's where I get my physicality," Aliyah said. "They would talk smack, and I had to prove them wrong."
The Bostons did just that, so much so that their parents went looking for basketball camps in New England. Eventually they decided to move in with their aunt, Jenaire Hodge, and her young daughter, Kira, who is now 13.
To make room for Aliyah and Alexis, Hodge moved into her daughter's room and gave her nieces the larger master bedroom.
"We are a very close family," said Hodge, who wakes up at 4:20 a.m. Monday through Friday so she can do strength training with Aliyah at a local gym.
"It wasn't easy. I immediately went from a single mom of one to a single mom of three, with two teenagers. But it was a no-brainer."
On to college
These days, Alexis, who is 6-3, is a sophomore post player at Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas.
Aliyah's college decision is pending. She has already visited Notre Dame and Ohio State and will tour South Carolina's campus Oct. 25-28. Connecticut will get the last word and will try to close the deal Nov. 1-4.
Boston, an A/B student who has enjoyed learning Spanish, is interested in studying communications, and she knows exactly what she is looking for in a school.
"Since I left St. Thomas when I was 12, family atmosphere is the main thing I'm looking for in a college program," Boston said. "Every college coach talks about it, but you can always tell when it's real."
Return to paradise
After Boston won gold in the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Minsk, Belarus, she traveled home to St. Thomas -- still wearing her gold medal around her neck. She got a huge surprise.
"I said, 'Wow, there are a lot of people here at the airport,' " Boston said. "Then I said, 'Wow, this is for me!'
"There was a big banner with a lot of my photos. There were a lot of flowers and fruit baskets. People were congratulating me. I was excited and happy."
There is another homecoming set up in less than two months. The Worcester team will travel to St. Thomas Nov. 17-23. Boston plans to sign with her national letter of intent during her trip home. This year's early signing period for Division I college basketball is Nov. 14-21.
In addition, Boston and her teammates will feed those in need on Thanksgiving Day and help rebuild a community center that was torn down last September during consecutive hurricanes, Irma and Maria.
Those hurricanes cost Al Boston a job he had held for a decade -- as a bartender at the Ritz Carlton. Others were even less fortunate.
Aliyah Boston, who turns 17 in December, can't wait to lend a hand.
"As a team, we know we're very fortunate," she said. "It's satisfying being able to give a plate of food to someone who is hungry."