Before the UConn mens' basketball season began, there was one thing everyone knew about the team coming in: They would have one of the best back courts in all of college basketball.
It didn't matter if someone was picking them to finish first in the American Athletic Conference or middle of the pack ... everyone, EVERYONE, said that the combination of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright would be lethal.
Problem was, for long stretches of the season, Boatright didn't seem like he was living up to his end of the bargain.
While Napier was leading the team in what seemed like every single statistical category other than points scored while using the basketball like a hackey sack, Boatright was having a real rollercoaster season. Yeah, the overall numbers looked okay - 12.1 points a game, 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists - but those were down significantly from the year before, where Boatright seemed to usher in The Boat Show nightly, averaging 15.4 points and almost 5 assists a game.
But it was more than just numbers. Boatright never seemed to be quite in sync. His shooting percentage was low, especially over the last half of the year where he produce a bunch of 3-12-type clunkers where it seemed like every shot, whether a three or layup, careened off the backboard. It was also clear that Boatright couldn't manage the team well without Shabazz on the floor. While Napier seemed to be in control of both himself and his teammates while playing point, Boatright looked in control of neither. He played out of control alot, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and just looked out of sorts.
Going into the NCAA Tournament, a lot of us opined that, in order for UConn to win big, Napier needed a Robin to his Batman. Boatright, in the beginning of the year, was suppose to be that. Could he finally live up to the reputation?
Answer: Big Fat Yes.
From a scoring standpoint, there's no question that DeAndre Daniels' arrival as a premier player was vital, but I'd submit that, aside from Shabazz, no one was more valuable and more important to Husky tourney success than Boatright.
He scored when he needed to score. He played poised and polished at the point position. He was in complete control of his game. And his defense was absolutely stellar. He looked like a reincarnate of Ricky Moore ... a defensive stopper capable of doing so much more.
Boatright went from question mark to exclamation point. He was, for lack of a better word, brilliant.
And that's led him to the inevitable question: To stay at UConn or jump to the NBA?
Personally I believe it to be an easy decision: Boatright should absolutely return for his senior year.
The obvious argument for leaving to turn pro is cashing in on high value. The Boat Show is fresh in people's minds, having just been put on prime-time television for three straight weeks. Any NBA general manager paying attention saw what Boat had done, and there's not question he raised his stock.
But, honestly, how high could his stock have risen?
Here's the reality for Boatright: He's generously listed at 6 feet, although it appears he might be an inch or two below that line. No matter what, he's a little guy. Real little when it comes to the NBA, and if there's one thing everyone knows, pro scouts and general managers like height. That immediately puts Boat at a disadvantage.
Yeah, he did it in college, but what about at the NBA level, will be the questioned asked. Hell, remember how many people questioned whether Kemba Walker would make a good pro because of his size? And Kemba was coming off a dominant college season and was built like a mini-Mac truck. Boatright is coming off a sub-par that had a great ending. It's hard to see his physical limitations not biting him.
Now, perhaps that NCAA Tournament run puts a lot of those concerns at ease. Maybe pro officials will see past that, past the size and will recognize the talent. Well, here's the other problem, by all accounts this is one of the deepest drafts in two decades.
Take a look at some mock drafts. I know they aren't exactly gospel this far out, but most of them have Shabazz going late in the first or early in the second round. If that's where Shabazz, the best player in NCAA Tournament, the Player of the Year in the AAC, a point guard so good Lebron James actually tweeted he should be the first PG off the board come the draft, is slated to go, where will that leave Boatright?
My guess is the Boat is no better than a second rounder, meaning he'd be on some summer league roster fighting for a spot in a non-guaranteed role.
However, if Boatright came back, then he'd have a full year at UConn where he'd essentially be "the man." Sure, the Huskies have some really talented players coming in next year (anyone else excited to see what the "Ferrari" Rodney Purvis looks like?) but Boatright would surely be the focal point. He'd be the point guard leading the team into what you'd expect would be another March trip.
And make no mistake, playing point for a full season and proving he can do it will be pivotal in keeping himself in the NBA. At his height, he isn't making a team as a shooting guard. He'll need to show he can run a team, and offense, and make the players around him better. With Napier there for his first three years, he hasn't had the chance to really show what he can do game-in and game-out. Coming back next year would allow him to do that.
That would put him in a position to enter what promises to be a weaker draft, talent-wise, with what promise to be better numbers and a full year of playing point. How could that not help him?
Look, if Kevin Ollie comes back to Boatright and says "you're a first rounder and you'll make millions," how can I argue that? While I'm not sure risk of injury is as great as people make it seem-who was the last player whose career was ended with an injury sustained by coming back for one more year?-it definitely is there.
But I don't think Boat is a first rounder. I think he's a second and maybe even a guy who needs an invitation in the summer.
If he comes back, he makes UConn his team. He can show off his skills for one more year. He can enter a draft that will offer up less competition for draft spots, meaning landing in the first round would be likely.
And, of course, he'd be able to play one more year in The Capital of College Basketball, and for the best young coach in the game. It all points to him staying.
Let's see if he feels the same.