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Basketball: Ryan Boatright takes on expanded role at UConn

UConn point guard former East Aurorstar Ryan Boatright speaks during an appearance his almmater Wednesday. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times

UConn point guard and former East Aurora star Ryan Boatright speaks during an appearance at his alma mater Wednesday. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 27, 2012 11:19AM

When asked to describe his freshman season at UConn, former East Aurora star Ryan Boatright started out by emphasizing one word.

“Crazy,” Boatright said.

That’s a good place to start.

Boatright was suspended for the first six games of his collegiate career by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits, and then lost two more games in the middle of the season as the NCAA again reviewed his eligibility.

But despite all of the off-court issues that plagued his freshman season, Boatright still turned in a solid year for the Huskies. He averaged 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game in 25 games, despite missing most of the start of the season.

“It was a good year for me,” Boatright said. “The only thing I would change would be getting to play those games, but other than that, it was a great year. I learned a lot to prepare me for this big year coming up for me.”

Boatright caught the eye of many influential people with his solid freshman season, including Olympic point guard Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Boatright was invited to Paul’s CP3 Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., in June — an elite point guard camp limited to the top 20 college guards in the country.

Boatright said he was excited to work alongside guards he hasn’t had the chance to play against like Duke’s Seth Curry and Trey Burke of Michigan, but he was even more excited to learn some of the finer points of point guard play from one of the best in the NBA.

“It was a great experience,” Boatright said. “I held my own. I won the one-on-one competition. We learned a lot, too. We did a lot of drills and Chris was involved in every drill. It was a wonderful experience. I definitely look up to him. He’s a great point guard, period, if not the best point guard in the league. It’s not just on the court, he thinks the game so well. I’d definitely like to be like him some day.”

The thought had crossed Boatright’s mind after his freshman season to try and join Paul in the NBA ranks this year. This coming season, UConn will play without a chance to reach the postseason. The NCAA has banned the Huskies from postseason play for one year as a result of their low Academic Progress Rate scores.

UConn is the first major program to be hit with the ban, meaning no Big East tournament and no NCAA tournament for Boatright and the Huskies this year. Teammates Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb both declared early for the NBA Draft and were both lottery picks. Alex Oriakhi (Missouri) and Roscoe Smith (UNLV) both transferred.

That led to speculation that Boatright may transfer, something he said he never considered. But it also led him to ponder leaving early for the NBA Draft.

“I was thinking about going pro,” Boatright said. “I could have went late first-round, early second, but that’s not what I think I am. I think I’m a lottery, top-10 pick, so I just decided to come back to school. Me and my mom (Tanesha) thought that was the best decision for me, get bigger, get faster, get stronger and hopefully accomplish my goals to go into the draft next year.”

All of the controversy surrounding the program has made Boatright’s goals for his sophomore season clear.

“We just want to prove the world wrong since we can’t play in the tournament,” Boatright said. “People don’t expect us to be good. They expect it to be a bad year. Everybody is on the same page and wants to prove everybody wrong.”

One thing that will change for Boatright this season is the amount of leadership responsibilities he will have, both on and off the court.

“Going into this year, I’ll be a captain,” Boatright said. “They want me to lead the team. That means a lot. It means I came a long way. It means that I earned the trust of my coaching staff by doing the right things.”

On the court, Boatright is hoping to get the chance to do more of the things that made him a legend at East Aurora.

“My role will expand,” Boatright said. “I’ll get to do what I do best, which is score the ball a lot more. The offense will probably run through me. I’m the starting point guard, so I feel the need to get everybody involved.”

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