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UConn benches Boatright amid eligibility questions

Eligibility questions forced former East Aurorstandout Ryan Boatright watch Connecticut's game Notre Dame from bench Saturday. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

Eligibility questions forced former East Aurora standout Ryan Boatright to watch Connecticut's game at Notre Dame from the bench Saturday. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 24, 2012 11:34PM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — He had more support at the Joyce Center than some Republican presidential candidates at the Iowa caucus, but that couldn’t get Ryan Boatright in the running Saturday morning against Notre Dame.

The freshman guard from East Aurora High School is back in limbo, confined to the Connecticut bench while the school and NCAA investigate his eligibility for the second time this season.

“I can’t, nor will I make any comment about it. I don’t wanna hurt my program,” said coach Jim Calhoun after his team snapped the Irish’s 29-game home win streak 67-53.

An earlier review cost Boatright a six-game suspension to start the season for receiving an improper benefit — reportedly a plane ticket — involving his AAU team. He came off the bench for the next 10 games and averaged 26 minutes of playing time, 10 points, three rebounds and three assists.

The school announced at 9 p.m. Friday that the new review “pertains to conditions and events that predate the university’s relationship with Boatright.”

Boatright was instructed not to comment to the media, and his parents, Tanesha Boatright and Mike McAllister, also chose not to comment. That didn’t stop former West Aurora basketball standout Jaeh Thomas, however. Thomas is McAllister’s cousin and has advised young Boatright and trained with him.

“We know exactly who it is,” Thomas said, identifying the source providing information to the NCAA that led to the review as a former boyfriend of Tanesha Boatright.

“What the NCAA needs to get through their head is, it’s her ex-boyfriend, who also happens to be his dad’s first cousin. Both families have pushed him out.”

Calhoun, who pulled the player from the team meal Friday evening and informed him he wouldn’t be playing, did describe his player’s reaction.

“He was in my arms when I told him. He was in my arms, that’s all I can tell you,” Calhoun said of the emotional talk. “… I feel a lot about it, but I have nothing to say about it.”

Most of the 400 family members and friends from Aurora who had purchased tickets for the game still made the trip and the young player mingled with them, posed for pictures and signed autographs long after the game.

One of the first to greet him with a hug was Donald Harden, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Boatright’s grandfather Tom.

“We wanted to come out and show Ryan our support,” said Harden. “I told him to keep his head up. It’s awful strange, isn’t it, that something like this crops up when people from his hometown are coming out to see him. It’s tough on him.”

Teammates felt for Boatright, who has played a key role off the bench in a three-guard lineup often used by Calhoun.

“He’s a guy who does a lot for this team. And, he passed me the ball a lot,” 6-foot-9 Alex Oriakhi said with a smile. “I was upset it happened. We all thought it was handled with in the past. Unfortunately, I guess something else came up.”

Sophomore starting point guard Shabazz Napier, who played all 40 minutes and had a team-high 16 points, said, “It was kinda short notice. (Boatright) is taking it hard, we’re all taking it hard.

I really missed him a lot. He does a lot for the team. He comes out with that energy boost. Hopefully, we don’t have to play without him (Wednesday at home) against Cincinnati.”

Harden, for one, noticed the slower pace in the first half that ended with the Irish leading 25-24.

“(UConn) could have used Ryan,” he said. “It was actually almost a boring game at that point.”

Unable to resist a crosstown jab, he added, “It kinda reminded me of a West Aurora game.”

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