STORRS – You can't teach velocity. It's either there or it isn't. No one has ever had to tell Ryan Boatright to put the pedal to the floor. “I pretty much used to go 100 mph all the time,” he said.
Throughout high school and AAU outside Chicago, and for his first two seasons at UConn, the “Boat Show” has always been full speed ahead.
“I know how explosive Boatright is,” said Louisville's Russ Smith, the American Athletic Conference preseason player of the year. A student of guard play, Smith lists Boatright as one of those players he likes to watch and analyze.
But now Boatright, who is generously listed at 6 feet and 168 pounds, is going into his junior season and working to get to the NBA. Characteristically, he has been in a hurry to get there. After last season, when the information he got indicated he would not be a first-round pick, he committed himself to another season in Storrs, beginning with a summer of learning to refine his game.
“I just slowed down,” Boatright said. “I know how to go at different paces, change speeds, make smarter and quicker decisions in the lane. That's something I worked on really hard all summer – smart decision-making and quicker decision-making.”
Boatright, along with teammate Shabazz Napier, attended Kyrie Irving's point guard camp in New Jersey during the summer and worked extensively with veteran NBA player and coach John Lucas.
“The thing I got [there] is not to pick up your dribble until you're sure you can get the ball where it needs to go.” Boatright said. “It's a shorter shot clock and they want the ball in the point guard's hands as much as possible.”
Later in the summer, Napier played in a Nike summer league in Chicago, where he gained more experience in the pace – and the ability to change pace – that marks the game at the next level.
“My point-guard skills are at an all-time high,” he said. “I've learned the game. All my life I've been told to score, but now I know how to get my teammates involved and still get mine.”
Boatright, for instance, once scored 63 points in a game for East Aurora High, and after sitting out the NCAA review of his eligibility as a freshman, he burst onto the UConn scene and scored in double figures in his first few games.
Last season, Boatright – who has never missed practice at UConn — played without disruption, averaged 15.4 points and had 131 assists vs. 89 turnovers in 30 games. At his best, he was the most exciting player on the floor, but he occasionally became out of control. That's what coach Kevin Ollie, the NBA-proven point guard, wants Boatright to master.
“He'll still be wild, man,” Ollie said. “He'll be playing Boat ball. In a structured way, though. We don't want to take away his explosiveness. Getting up and down court, we're not taking that away. But taking the right opportunities, making the right passes to his players. We're not trying to change his game, that's why he's so good.”
Another area Boatright must improve is three-point shooting – a must for a player stretching to reach six feet. Last season, Boatright ran hot and cold from the perimeter and finished at 33.3 percent, 43 for 129, a step back from his freshman season when made 40.4 percent of his threes.
“Right now he's considered a borderline NBA prospect,” said Chad Ford, ESPN's draft analyst. “He's got quickness and speed, but his lack of a consistent jumper, combined with his lack of size, aren't helping his cause. It's not impossible to make the leap at that size. Scouts are excited about Arizona State's Jahii Carson, for example, and he's Boatright's size. But if you're going to be under six feet, you have do everything else well to succeed.”