Boatright Gives UConn New Look

STORRS – When freshman point guard Ryan Boatright got his first opportunity to play in a college basketball game – seven games into Connecticut's season – coach Jim Calhoun couldn't detect any nerves, apprehension, or opening-game jitters.

"He did the exact right things," Calhoun said Friday. "He gave it up twice instead of shooting, then he had that runner down the middle. Once again, he's not a sufferer of being really terribly insecure. He just plays. And that's what I'd like us to do [as a team]."

Since Boatright was suspended six games (eight if you count exhibition games) over an eligibility issue reviewed by the NCAA, he hasn't played before the home crowd yet. That debut will come Saturday (3:15 p.m.) at the XL Center when No. 8 UConn (6-1) takes on Arkansas (5-1) in game that is part of the Big East/SEC Challenge.

Boatright sat the first two games of the Battle 4 Atlantis last weekend in the Bahamas, then rescued the Huskies from a possible shipwreck in the consolation game against Florida State. He came off the bench to play 33 minutes and in UConn's 78-76 overtime victory, contributing 14 points, three assists and no turnovers.

"It felt good just to help my team get a win and not have to watch and see them struggle in an area that I can help and Coach felt like I could help," Boatright said before UConn's practice Friday. "[My mood] has changed because I know everything I have been working for and everything I worked on all summer and preseason, I can actually do that on the court now instead of watching my team be in a dogfight.

"You feel helpless when you've got to sit and watch."

Calhoun wouldn't commit to a starting lineup for the Arkansas game but it seems unlikely Boatright would be with the first five because his coach enjoys the spark he brings off the bench. But don't be surprised if Calhoun goes to the three-guard look a lot against Arkansas' pressure defense under first-year coach Mike Anderson.

With Boatright in the lineup, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier can move off the ball and the Huskies can do a lot of things offensively. Boatright said there is good chemistry developing

"We all can shoot, we're all quick and we can all handle," said Lamb, UConn's leading scorer with a 21.1 average. "It puts pressure on the defense and makes them have to really guard."

Calhoun still craves consistency in all facets of the game from his players. He said that Boatright, Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith have been the best players in practice this week since the team's return from the Bahamas.

But it's hard to imagine Napier, Lamb or freshman center Andre Drummond coming out of the starting lineup. Calhoun's options are at the forward spots, where Alex Oriakhi, Smith, Giffey, Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels have all shared time. By next week, center/forward Michael Bradley (broken foot) could return to practice.

It's obvious Calhoun won't hesitate to make change. Oriakhi, a preseason All-America candidate and such a key to UConn's success in the NCAA tournament last season has not started the past three games.

"Alex's attitude has been the same as it has been since he's been here," Calhoun said. "He's a hard worker. He was in [Gampel Pavilion] late last night. I don't worry about his attitude. I worry about his confidence. He's got to find himself. . . . He'll play a lot of basketball for us."

Calhoun left the Bahamas knowing the Huskies are better with Boatright. He has seen UConn in both lights, and it is clear which one he favors.

"He can play," Calhoun said. "He can play. He's a great athlete, seems to have great vision. [Playing Arkansas] will be a great indication because we'll be pressed fullcourt a lot. He's a very good basketball player. He has a great deal of confidence.

"And he does have enthusiasm. When I was talking at this point last year, I knew we were pretty good because we won Maui already. I think we found that Kemba [Walker's] enthusiasm carried us as a team. We need a little more of that as a team, and hopefully we're going to get it."

BOATRIGHT: "WASN'T EXPECTING 8 GAMES"

Boatright talked to the media in the Bahamas after hitting three critical free throws and helping UConn to a 78-76 overtime victory over Florida State last Saturday. But Thursday before practice was the first time he had answered questions from the entire Connecticut media since his eligibility review became public on Nov. 2.

Boatright missed two exhibition games and also served the full six-game regular season suspension mandated by the NCAA and announced Nov. 18 – after he had already missed three of those games. The issue that caused the problem was a plane ticket purchased for Boatright by a representative of his AAU basketball team in Chicago. The ticket, used on a trip to a tournament in California, cost less than $400, but is considered an improper benefit under NCAA rules.

Boatright said he first learned about the NCAA inquiry before UConn's First Night (Oct. 14) when he was home in Aurora, Ill., on a three-day break from school. He wasn't sure of the exact date.

Here are the answers Boatright was allowed to give on the subject.

(On the suspension itself) "I wasn't expecting eight games," he said. "The little thing that I was in trouble for, I was expecting maybe three to four – five at the most. It came out to be eight. I'm just happy God let me come back quick enough to help my team in the Bahamas."

(On the three big free throws against Florida State) "Nah, I didn't expect to be counted on like that. But that's what I've worked for, so I was prepared and able to do what I did."

(On his goals before Big East play begins) "I don't want to accomplish nothing. I just want to win. I don't really care about myself. The more you win, the better you look. That's what it's all about."

(On a new found sense of urgency) "Knowing I'm actually going to be able to get out there and play is a whole other feeling than working so hard every day and knowing you've got to sit on the bench."

(On how he first found out) "We had a break and I had gone home to visit. I got a phone call from the lawyer that was representing UConn saying that when I got back I was going to have a meeting. In the meeting, that's when it actually hit me, like, ‘Whoa, what are you talking about?'"

At that point, a member of the UConn athletics communications staff asked if there were any more basketball questions for Boatright and the interview ended.


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