Walking out of the UConn locker room in street clothes Wednesday night, Ryan Boatright slouched over to the Huskies’ bench, devastated he could not put on his jersey in Gampel Pavilion one last time.
For the 11th time in his UConn career, Boatright was not in uniform when the Huskies fell to Arizona State in the first round of the NIT. Boatright missed nine games because of NCAA investigations, and another following the death of his cousin.
This was the first he missed due to injury, a shoulder sprain he suffered against SMU in Sunday’s American championship game.
“It was extremely tough,” Boatright said. “I was contemplating five minutes in if I wanted to go in there and throw my uniform on. It was rough, but I had belief in my team. I really thought we was going to pull that game out.”
Wednesday, he was UConn’s biggest fan and loudest cheerleader, even outdoing Shabazz Napier’s mother, Carmen Velasquez, who continues to make her presence felt at UConn games even now that Napier has graduated.
Boatright even played the role of coach. At halftime, he was talking to Terrence Samuel, who struggled in the first half, providing two points and three assists.
Samuel, seemingly UConn’s point guard going forward without Boatright, was a different player in the second half, scoring eight points – fearlessly driving to the rim – while providing three more assists.
“He was just telling me that I’m a better player than the way I was playing in the first half,” Samuel said. “I was playing a little nervous, and he said do what you do in practice, you have to play the way you play in practice in a game.”
Cheerleader, coach, motivator, Boatright did it all Wednesday.
If only he could have played.
Boatright’s career at UConn ended the same way it started, on the bench in street clothes. The in-between, however, was worthy of celebration.
His 1,786 points rank eighth all time. He is ninth in career assists with 491, and he made 199 3-pointers, the seventh-most in program history. Only three UConn players had more games in double figures than Boatright’s 93.
There was also, of course, the 2014 national championship, of which Boatright was an essential component.
Most impressive about Boatright’s career was his maturation as a man during his four years in Storrs.
“I know there are going to be some great things for him in the future,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “I think he grew up as a man and as a basketball player. He has a lot of pride to get better. I know he wanted his team to go out on a better note and I imagine he wanted himself to go out on a better note, but God is preparing him for something great.
“That kid has grown a lot. He has bright future. Boat wants it, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get it.”
Wherever Boatright goes this summer, UConn will always be part of him.
And he does not plan on changing that.
“UConn is forever a part of me,” Boatright said. “This will always, forever be my second home – outside of Chicago. Whenever I get the opportunity to come back up here and help the team, talk to kids or help Coach with whatever – with camps and stuff – I’ll definitely be here to do it.”