Ryan Boatright's maturity keys UConn's defensive run
Ryan Boatright didn't take an easy road to Connecticut -- and his development has been key for the Huskies.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- If not for Jabarie Hinds and O.J. Mayo, Connecticut might not be in the national championship game on Monday night.
Sounds weird, right?
Start with Hinds, the Massachusetts point guard who sat out this past season after transferring from West Virginia.
How does he fit into all of this?
Well, Hinds committed to West Virginia back on Oct. 19, 2010.
The day before, Ryan Boatright had committed to the Mountaineers. Boatright was set to be the point guard for Bob Huggins. When Hinds committed, Boatright immediately reconsidered -- and decommitted just four days later, on Oct. 23.
"When you think about it, there really was no point going somewhere you've got to fight with other players at your position," Boatright told the Charleston Daily Mail during his freshman season at UConn. "There were too many people in one position."
Let's go one step further with Mayo.
You see, Mayo committed to Southern California in 2006. But after allegations and reports that head coach Tim Floyd paid cash to a runner in order to get Mayo to the Trojans, Floyd resigned.
Before he even committed to West Virginia, Boatright had pledged to USC as an eighth-grader. When Floyd resigned, new head coach Kevin O'Neill didn't honor the commitment and Boatright was back on the market before he even entered high school.
"We knew it wasn't a guarantee that Coach Floyd would be there," Tanesha Boatright, Ryan's mother, told ESPN in 2010. "At the same time, it wasn't a decision he walked away from. Actually, Ryan never changed his mind; the coach left. Tim Floyd left, the verbal wasn't there and the new coach didn't uphold the verbal."
Fun comparisons and coincidences aside, there were a lot of twists and turns to get Boatright to Connecticut.
And the drama wasn't completely over, even after he got to Storrs. Boatright and backcourt mate Shabazz Napier both were used to being the go-to-guys, the players with the ball in their hands, the focal points of the offense. And with Kemba Walker departing after the 2011 championship season, there was a bit of a battle to take the reins of the UConn offense.
"My freshman year, it was tough," Boatright said on Sunday afternoon. "I was used to having the ball all the time and making plays, and scoring the ball. Naturally as a kid, I was immature. You come in and you think it's all about you. I grew up and, Shabazz will tell you, he wasn't the best leader at that time. He had some stuff he had to work on. We bumped heads a lot. Both of us being from inner cities, and being tough guys, we ain't back down to each other. We had some rough practices."
Boatright came into college as a scorer. He was explosive off the dribble, someone who could get his own shot against most defenders and fill it up quickly. But Napier was also that player, and it was clear last season that he was going to be the primary option for the Huskies. It wasn't easy for Boatright, but he has adapted well to being a complementary option.
More importantly, in the NCAA Tournament, Boatright has become a defensive stopper -- someone that can be a pest on the defensive side of the floor, not allowing opposing offenses to get into easy offense. Against Michigan State, he stifled Keith Appling and Travis Trice, and against Florida, he limited Michael Frazier off screens and also helped on Scottie Wilbekin for stretches.
"I knew Ryan was going to be an effective defender three years ago," head coach Kevin Ollie said. "It's nothing new to me. We wanted him to be more consistent with it and I think he's starting to do that, and just affect the game in so many different ways. He had to mature as a young man and a basketball player. It's not all about scoring. He can impact the game in so many ways and he's starting to do that at the highest stage."
Boatright has completely bought in to not being the guy on the court. He's fine with taking a back seat to Napier, and lately, he has been fine with taking a back seat to DeAndre Daniels as well. He's still someone who can get his own look, which has taken a lot of pressure off of Napier and the rest of the offense. His ability to handle the ball and run an offense has enabled Napier to focus a bit more on scoring.
"He's been playing more of a point guard role and being a defensive stopper," sophomore Omar Calhoun said. "He's doing a great job of basically leading on defense, not necessarily on offense, because Shabazz is the key on offense. But on defense, he's a big part of us getting stops and stuff like that."
Against Kentucky on Monday night, Boatright will once again have to be a major factor for the Huskies. He will be smaller than Aaron Harrison (or Andrew Harrison, depending which one he guards), but he will have to keep him out of the lane and not let him get going.
And he is already prepared for the test.
On Saturday night, he watched Aaron Harrison hit his second straight winning shot in the final seconds.
"He hit the same shot at the same time from the same spot," Boatright said. "I would have known what to do.
"I wouldn't have let him get that shot off."
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