With UConn in his rear view mirror, Ryan Boatright looks ahead
In Ryan Boatright’s perfect world, he’d be getting ready right now for the final month of the NBA regular season and potentially the playoffs, like his former backcourt mate Shabazz Napier is currently doing for the Miami Heat.
If that was the case, his final scene at UConn would’ve been a perfect one, as he, on one knee, cradled the basketball with confetti pouring down from the roof after the Huskies won the national championship. Instead, his career ended with maybe the worst game of his college career in a loss to SMU in the AAC Tournament finals, followed by missing the Huskies’ first round loss at home to Arizona State in the NIT due to a shoulder injury.
The senior captain was asked about that following the NIT defeat, and if he was happy that he came back for one more season in Storrs.
He didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“I’m 100 percent happy with my decision to come back,” Boatright said. “I accomplished a lot.”
That he did. This season, Boatright averaged a career-high 17.4 points, shot a career-best 41 percent from three, and finished his career eighth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,786 points. Most importantly, he improved as a player with the potential to make the NBA.
It’s easy for fans to think winning is the one and only goal for college players. It’s not.
Just like any college student, basketball players are there to better themselves for a future in their chosen profession. Boatright did that for himself, and while UConn’s 20-15 record was a disappointment, this season was a success for him.
Last April, when the deadline to declare for the NBA Draft came, Boatright was not projected to be selected. Now, mock drafts have him being picked in the second round. He’ll look to improve on that at the draft combine and at individual team workouts in the upcoming months.
“I think I raised my stock and proved to everybody that I can be a high level point guard,” Boatright said. “I was a better leader and better floor general. I played the majority at the two-guard last year and I proved to everyone that I can be an elite point guard.”
Boatright is listed, generously, at 6-feet, which is the main item going against him. Everything that he had in his power to improve on, he did, especially his outside shot.
“I put in a hard summer,” he said. “I put in a lot of work to improve my overall game and the three-point shot is just what defenses were giving me.”
Among his shining moments from this season included a 22-point, seven-rebound, and three-steal effort in a loss to powerhouse Duke. And, in one of the better games of his career, he dominated AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore in a head-to-head matchup, scoring 23 points with five assists, while holding Moore to nine points on 3-of-13 shooting in a home win.
Of course, he also hit the buzzer-beating three over Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament, a shot that nearly blew the roof off the XL Center (again), and one that will surely be a regular in the all-time UConn highlight packages.
Where his next highlight will take place remains to be seen. For inspiration, he has to look no further than the UConn coach’s office. After a successful career at UConn, Kevin Ollie went undrafted, but still put together a 13-year career in the NBA, which spanned 10 different teams and featured a fight that many players do not have in them.
He sees that passion in Boatright and foresees him having a successful run in basketball.
“This kid has grown a lot. He has bright future,” Ollie said. “Boat wants it, and he's going to do whatever it takes to get it. It only takes one team to love you, you don’t need 30 GMs to love you.”
Boatright said his next step is hiring an agent. He is then ready for the daunting work ahead.
“I know it’s a long process, but it’s something I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” Boatright said. “It’s something I’m going to continue to work for. I’m just going control what I can control, which is my play. Hopefully, somebody believes in me and gives me an opportunity.”
“When you get to the NBA, you’re with guys 30, 32 years old and you have to earn their respect,” noted Ollie. “You don’t do it by talking, you do it by working and Ryan works hard. I want the best for him. If he gets in a situation that’s a dogfight, I’ll put my money on Boat.”
Eventually, Boatright will have his name added to the Huskies of Honor in the Gampel Pavilion rafters with other former UConn greats.
“UConn is forever a part of me,” he said.
It’s time, though, for him to go now.