January 9, 2013
There was a Boat Show, but he swears that on the play of the night there was no showboat.
Nearly nine minutes into the second half of UConn's 99-78 Big East rout of DePaul Tuesday night, R.J. Evans stole the ball from Durrell McDonald. He fed it ahead to Ryan Boatright and what happened next was much less boat and much more jet.
Boatright, alleged to be 6-0 — "No comment on that," he said — took off in full flight with a thunderous one-handed dunk. More than that, he completed an airborne pirouette that if you didn't know better might have been in the words of the late Al McGuire a little too much French pastry.
"I give all the praise to my grandfather for [his jumping ability]," Boatright said. "He made me run track all my life. I hated track. I used to cry all the time and all that. He made me run and he made me work out. Being able to jump that's from running track and doing the high jump."
And the gravity-defying spin-o-rama?
"I had a flashback," said Boatright, who finished with 22 points. "My last summer in AAU [after his senior year in high school] in Kansas, I got bridged."
He points to a scar on his face.
"You can see I had stitches all in my face," he said. "So when anybody is ever underneath me, I try to avoid falling on my face. So when the guy hit me, I just tried to spin off and come down comfortably. That wasn't really meant to be anything flashy."
Let's face it. Boatright can't help but be flashy. He's so small, so fast. After getting some serious bench time against Marquette, much of this night's story was Boatright's roommate DeAndre Daniels' career-high 26-point, bounce-back game. Yet when you see Boatright initiate the flash he did on this one, heading into games against Notre Dame, Louisville and Pittsburgh — the heart of the 2012-2013 UConn season — you get a big taste of exactly how much Boatright means to the Huskies' guard-oriented attack.
Coach Kevin Ollie even used the "I" word. Not in the subjective sense, in "The Answer" sense.
"He gave us the jolt we needed tonight," Ollie said. "We fed off him. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever been around. I've been around Allen Iverson. I'm not saying he's faster than Allen Iverson, but when he pushes it and plays with that force and plays with that pace, we're tough to beat.
"Not only does he get up and down the court very, very fast — he explodes. He gets to the rim. He's not just a little guy going in there. He's a little guy with power. He's attacking the rim and then he's making passes. That's a beautiful thing."
Afterward, Boatright came into the interview area carrying a beautiful Cubs jacket, a little reminder that this kid is out of the Chicago area and, with the game shown back home in Aurora, also a reminder that the little guy has some big expectations.
"We've got SNY here, so I knew they'd have a local channel, too [WCIU-DT2]," Boatright said. "I knew everybody at home would tune in to watch the game."
It turns out Boatright's bright blue Cubs' jacket is a tribute to his late uncle, Brian McAllister.
"He was my No. 1 fan," Boatright said. "The Cubs were his favorite team. He used to make me watch the Cubs games with him. I wear the Cubs to represent him, but I like the White Sox."
Without games at DePaul or Marquette last year, Boatright saw his chance to play near home disappear when the NCAA suspended him for improper benefits on the eve of a game at Notre Dame. It was a cruel blow. So he's chomping to play at South Bend on Saturday afternoon.
"I can't wait to get back out there and play in front of my family and friends that haven't seen me play in awhile," Boatright said. "Knowing where I was at last year and being able to play now, I feel like I'm blessed to play basketball.'
He's also a little wary.
"Definitely," Boatright said. "I found out last year at pre-game meal the night before. When we get to pre-game meal this time, I'm going to be nervous looking around, hoping nobody will come pull me out."
He was joking. Boatright's confidence has never been higher. He always has had a bit of the Napoleon complex, but this is a more mature swagger.
"My confidence is a lot higher, just because K.O. installed that confidence in me," Boatright said. "He let me rock. I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like I've got a lot more freedom and I can play my game. Plus me and Shabazz [Napier] are clicking real good. We're getting along so well. It all came together this year.
"I've got a rhythm. I've got a flow to the game. Last year, I was pulled in and out too much [he meant twice by the NCAA, not by Jim Calhoun's hook], and then just trying to work in the team chemistry, especially with having Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb and older people above me. But right now, man, this team we've got good chemistry. Everybody understands their role."
Before the game, he talked about DePaul and its press and he was saying that if the Huskies execute like they can it will be "lay-up city." He doesn't lack for self-assurance. So when asked if he feels like anybody can stop him when he has the ball and attacking, he didn't back off.
"Nah," Boatright said. "That's where I'm at. I felt like that my whole life. Considering how small I am, you've got to have a lot of heart and that kind of attitude or it can go south for you. I don't feel like anybody can stop me and I'm going to keep that attitude."
You get the feeling the guy is having the time of his life. Just the other day, there he was at the Notre Dame-UConn women's game jumping around, dancing, cheering. Some of his teammates were much more restrained. Not the Boat Show.
"I talk to the girls all the time," Boatright said. "We run into each other in Gampel all the time," Boatright said. "I'm good friends with a few of them. I see them in the crowd supporting us. Any time I get a chance to support them, I go. I want to experience the college atmosphere. So I don't just sit down and watch the game. I'm in the student section."
Yeah, he's full of life. Just the other day, he got into a little tussle with Daniels in practice.
"Yeah, a little tussle, but that's my brother," Boatright said. "We've been roommates since we got here the same day summertime our freshman year. We're together 24-7. But brothers fight. It was practice. We were heated and tired. It was intense, a little box-out drill. Just a little wrestling match."
And then in the shoot-around, Boatright bumped into Daniels' shoulder with his knee.
"We've been running into a lot lately, we ran into each like four times in the game, too" Boatright said, laughing.
But he stopped laughing when the subject of Notre Dame and the rest of the schedule came up.
"We know there's a deadline on our season and we've got to try to pile up these wins and compete for the Big East regular season championship," he said. "That's all we can go for."
And so he's going after it. Hard. And fast. And high.
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