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College basketball: Ryan Boatright back on top of his game

East Aurorgraduate Connecticut sophomore Ryan Boatright goes up for basket during Tuesday's game against DePaul Storrs Conn. | JessicHill~AP

East Aurora graduate and Connecticut sophomore Ryan Boatright goes up for a basket during Tuesday's game against DePaul in Storrs, Conn. | Jessica Hill~AP

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Saturday’s game

Connecticut at Notre Dame, 1 p.m. (890-AM)

Updated: February 12, 2013 2:47PM



Tumultuous seems almost an understatement to describe his first year, but now three semesters into the college experience, East Aurora’s Ryan Boatright is settling in and can finally catch his breath.

Exhale.

“I’m blessed to be able to play. I’ve got a good rhythm going and I’m getting my flow back,” the University of Connecticut sophomore basketball player said Thursday.

It was two days after he made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day — at No. 4 — for a spinning dunk that capped a fastbreak in a 99-78 Big East Conference win over visiting DePaul.

“Yeah, I think that’s the fifth time I’ve been on (SportsCenter),” said Boatright, the 6-foot point guard who is second on his team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and minutes played (34.5), trailing only junior guard Shabazz Napier (17.4 and 36.1).

“He gave us the jolt that we needed,” first-year coach Kevin Ollie said. “We fed off him. He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever been around. When he pushes it and plays with that pace, we’re tough to beat.”

Boatright also has a team-high 63 assists (4.5 per game).

The young Huskies have no seniors on the roster — just one grad student transfer from Holy Cross who comes off the bench — and start three guards. They are 11-3, though, under the former UConn player and assistant coach.

Saturday, Boatright and his teammates tip off at 1 p.m. at Notre Dame against the 17th-ranked Irish, who have won 12 straight.

A virtual team turmoil last year, the Huskies dealt with questions about Boatright’s eligibility that resulted in two separate suspensions (9 and 2 games) for the freshman, an NCAA recruiting probe costing scholarships, penalties for the poor academic progress rate (APR) of past players and the health and status of revered, veteran coach Jim Calhoun.

It made for some choppy waters.

Calhoun retired. Ollie took over. There were heavy losses in personnel to graduation, transfers and guard Jeremy Lamb’s early departure for the NBA. And, the team was banned from postseason play — Big East and NCAA Tournaments — this season.

“It’s tough knowing you aren’t going to be able to play on the biggest stage, but we take it in stride and try to work hard and do the best we can,” said Boatright.

A year ago, almost to the day (Jan. 14), hundreds of Boatright’s friends and fans from Aurora did the same. After making the trek to South Bend, Ind., to see him play, they learned of the second suspension imposed by the NCAA the night before that left him riding the bench in team sweats.

Even so, he added, “I was kinda looking forward to (this season). I like to be in that leadership role, taking a lot of shots, taking a big shot. I’m not surprised we’ve done this well. I knew what we had and how hard we worked.”

It included grueling twice a week individual workouts under Ollie’s direction.

“I would call it hell, those individual workouts with Coach Ollie,” said Boatright, who has worked hard to “learn how to play pick and roll better. All the concepts are the same (as with Calhoun) but with (Ollie), there’s a lot less cuss words.

“The biggest thing has been to put on weight. I’m about 170 now. I might have been 150 when I was a senior (in high school). … I’ve become a man out here. I’ve matured a lot and grown up.”

Ollie, it seems, would agree.

“Not only does he get up and down the court very, very fast. He explodes and he gets to the rim,” the coach continued after the DePaul game. “It’s not like he’s a little guy going in there. He’s a little guy with power.

“He’s going to the rim, he’s attacking the rim and then he’s making passes. That’s a beautiful thing.”



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