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Through Victory and Adversity, Ryan Boatright Established Himself as a UConn Great

From his recruitment to UConn's struggles his senior season, Ryan Boatright has been through a lot as a Husky and came out the other end as an all-time great.

Ryan Boatright was a key part of UConn's national championship in 2014.
Ryan Boatright was a key part of UConn's national championship in 2014.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

When Ryan Boatright committed to UConn on Nov. 8, 2010, it brought an end to an unusual five-year stretch.

Boatright committed to Tim Floyd and Southern California as an eighth grader. Not long after Boatright gave USC his verbal, Floyd left for Texas-El Paso, and Kevin O'Neill did not plan on honoring his commitment.

His recruitment stayed open until a few weeks into his senior year of high school, when he committed to West Virginia. When the Mountaineers got a commitment from Jabarie Hinds – now in his first year at UMass – Boatright's recruitment opened again.

A few weeks later, Boatright was committed to the Huskies.

Everything works out the way it does for a reason.

Boatright's four years at UConn have been remarkable. Entering his final home game Thursday against Memphis, Boatright is ninth in school history with 1,689 points and 10th with 474 assists.

Oh, and there is that national championship from 2014.

"It's a long road, man," Boatright said. "I'm a firm believer in nothing happens without a reason and everything happens for a reason. That was the road and the plan that God had worked out for me. I walked in his confidence and his faith. I'm glad I ended up here. It's been a hell of a career for me."

Boatright has been an incredible player, another in the long list of great UConn point guards. His love for UConn – his "second home" – through the good times and bad  along with his identity as "the Boat Show" have earned him the adoration of the fan base.

But it has been four rocky years for Boatright, four years that have made him stronger as a person and a player.

Kevin Ollie and Andre LeFleur, the assistant coaches who recruited Boatright, warned him that his career would not be easy, that he might run into some obstacles.

"They had great insight into Ryan as a player and individual," Boatright's mother, Tanesha, told in 2010. "They told him that you have to know how to get through adversity."

Adversity was part of Boatright's UConn career from the first day.

Believed to be the result of a bitter ex-boyfriend of his mother's, Boatright was twice ruled ineligible during his freshman season while the NCAA investigated claims that Boatright and his family had violated NCAA rules. It weighed heavily on the freshman guard.

The second time around was especially hard to deal with. UConn received the news less than 24 hours before it was to play Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. By that time, a large group of Boatright's family and friends was on their way to the game from Illinois. When they got there, they had to watch Boatright cheer on his teammates from the bench as the Huskies upended Notre Dame. The situation weighed heavily on Boatright, who called family members in tears when he had to break the news.

After that game, UConn went 6-11, limped into the NCAA tournament and fell in the first round to Iowa State. It was a miserable season by UConn standards, but not as miserable as what followed – the tournament ban.

It was ridiculous. It was unfair. It was a lot of things that UConn players had to stop short of saying on the record. Still, the Huskies were banned from the NCAA tournament. That ban carried over to the Big East tournament, the last Big East tournament before the conference was divided and destroyed.

Three Huskies transferred. Two went to the NBA Draft. Jim Calhoun retired, replaced by Ollie. Boatright, like everyone, could have left. He stayed, and he was part of something special.

UConn could have folded. Boatright could have stopped caring. But that is not who Boatright is. That is not what you do when your right arm bears a tattoo of the king of the jungle and the phrase "Heart of a Lion," and your forearms join together to say "Fearless Warrior."

That is not what you do when you play for UConn.

"I don't think another guard has been through as much ups and downs as he's had occur. And to stick with it really puts him up there with the best of them," Ollie said.

The Huskies went 20-10 that year. Not great by UConn standards, but given the circumstances, it was incredible.

Boatright was a big part of the Huskies' success, which included wins over Michigan State and Syracuse.

Ah, the Syracuse game, the last meeting between two of college basketball's greatest rivals. If there is one game that sticks out in Boatright's career, it is UConn's 66-58 win over the sixth-ranked Orange. Seventeen points, four assists, four rebounds, three steals, it was an incredible performance, highlighted by a 3-pointer as the first half ended that gave UConn a five-point lead.

What most will remember, however, is what he said after the game, his last adieu to a bitter rival.

That was UConn's last laugh, in a sense. The Orange were the ones doing the laughing a few weeks later, when they went to the Final Four, and later when they officially became members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Huskies, meanwhile, remained members of the old Big East, renamed the American Athletic Conference. Joining Boatright and UConn, old friends like Cincinnati and Louisville (the latter for one year), as well as Memphis. Other than that, small programs with little to no history.

There was not a lot to say about UConn going into that season. The Huskies were No. 18 in the preseason poll. No one expected to hear much from them when the season started. Other than a spectacular win at the buzzer against Florida, that was mostly the case. UConn was swallowed up by the mediocrity that plagued the American.

And yet, the last player to touch a basketball during the 2013-14 Division I season was Boatright.

"Down into the hands of Boatright with five seconds, and this most improbable tournament run comes to an end with a UConn championship! The Huskies, once again are in basketball Heaven!" - Jim Nantz

The junior was crucial in UConn's run to a fourth national championship, the ideal sidekick to Shabazz Napier. Boatright had never been given the respect he deserved as a defensive guard, but he earned the recognition during the Huskies' championship run. More impressive than his 14 points in the championship game against Kentucky were his three steals.

Napier got all the attention all year, and rightfully so. Conference Player of the Year. All-American. The Huskies' fourth-leading scorer in UConn history scored 22 points in the championship, and people called it his championship.

Then Napier was drafted by the Miami Heat. Boatright decided to go back to school. After three years in Napier's shadow, he was finally captain of the ship.

And he has taken the ship through some choppy waters.

This season has been torturous for UConn. The Huskies enter Thursday's game with a 17-11 record. At this point, winning the American tournament in Hartford next week is UConn's only real hope of making the NCAA tournament. With Boatright at the helm, however, the sky is the limit.

For as poor as UConn had been all season, Sunday was a coming out party. Boatright's 23 points coupled with Rodney Purvis' 28 and Daniel Hamilton's 16 lifted the Huskies past new rival SMU. The 81-73 win over the No. 21 Mustangs may have been a turning point.

Even with two regular season games left, this season is far from over. This latest chapter in UConn basketball's tale still has blank pages.

And Boatright has the pen.

"I ain't come back to play in the NIT," Boatright said, "and this season's nowhere near over for us. We've still got an opportunity to make the tournament. I'm gonna do my best to lead this team to that goal."