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WVU basketball: Once committed to Mountaineers, Boatright starts to bloom for UConn

NEW YORK -- Ryan Boatright will come off the bench for Connecticut today when the Huskies take on West Virginia in the second round of the Big East Conference Tournament.

Had things gone a little differently, he could be starting for the Mountaineers in the noon game (ESPN) at Madison Square Garden.

Boatright, a 6-foot freshman point guard from Aurora, Ill., committed to WVU in October 2010 as part of its rather large recruiting class. Five days later, Boatright's mother, Tanesha, told Mountaineers Coach Bob Huggins her son was de-committing.

"My mom called and had the conversation with him and told him what we weren't happy with," Boatright said. "After she was done, I got on the phone basically to reassure him that I didn't want to be committed there anymore.

"It was no hard feelings toward him. He did what was best for his program and that's what he's supposed to do. I just wasn't happy with it."

What Huggins had done was accept a commitment from Jabarie Hinds a day after Boatright picked WVU.

Boatright and Hinds, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., were both to play point guard and Boatright wasn't a fan of the arrangement.

"When you think about it, there really was no point going somewhere you've got to fight with other players at your position," Boatright said, adding that senior Truck Bryant would also be on the team and in the backcourt. "There were too many people in one position. I felt like UConn was a better system for me."

Huggins called Boatright "very talented" Tuesday and didn't want to talk much about a player he still likes and respects, but he did say that players "don't commit and then say you're going to take other visits. That's not a very strong commitment."

Boatright committed to UConn in November.

He averaged 10.3 points and 4.1 assists in the regular season and shot 40.4 percent from 3-point range.

In Tuesday's 81-67 first-round win against 16th-seeded DePaul, which isn't far from where Boatright grew up, he paced ninth-seeded UConn (19-12) with 19 points and seven assists.

Boatright played 33 minutes with starter Shabazz Napier in foul trouble.

"He wanted to show just how good he was and he did," Coach Jim Calhoun said.

UConn is actually the third school to which Boatright committed. He famously told then-Southern Cal Coach Tim Floyd as a 14-year-old in 2007 that he wanted to play for the Trojans.

When Boatright finally made it to UConn, he was suspended the first six games of the season by the NCAA. The NCAA revisited the case in January and had Boatright sit three more times until he was ultimately cleared.

"That can definitely play with a freshman's mind," UConn junior Alex Oriakhi said. "When you're a young basketball player, you can't wait to go to a major university and play. For him to get suspended and not play and then have it happen again, that can be rough.

"But he's a tough kid who's already been through a lot and he's fought through it. He's definitely mentally tough because I don't know a lot of people who could handle that like he has."

Hinds, meanwhile, has started all 31 games for WVU (19-12), which only senior Kevin Jones also did this season. Hinds averages 7.7 points and 3.4 assists and shoots 33.3 percent from 3-point range.  Boatright said there's no superficial rivalry and that he has nothing against any of the Mountaineers.

This is just another game both teams want to win to get a better seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"I always watched UConn growing up," Boatright said. "It was one of my favorite schools. That style of play, I always knew I wasn't going to be very tall, so I looked at that stuff when I learned to play the game.

"When UConn was recruiting me, they were on probation so they had to stop recruiting me. I didn't know if they signed somebody else or what, but West Virginia was my other option and at the time I was feeling the best about them, so I went with them.

"We had our disagreements and it didn't go the way it was supposed to, but that's no shame to Coach Huggins. He's a great man. It just didn't work out and I wasn't comfortable. As soon as I de-committed, UConn got off probation and it's all worked out for the best."

Boatright helped the Huskies, who started the season ranked No. 4, win their 12th straight postseason game - five Big East Tournament games and six NCAA Tournament games last year - and their sixth straight in this event.

First team All-Big East guard Jeremy Lamb, who had 25 points in January's win against the Mountaineers, had 25 against the Blue Demons. Andre Drummond, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds against WVU, finished with 12 and 5 against DePaul.

The Huskies shot 53.4 percent and made their first seven 3-point attempts. They led by 24 points early in the second half.

"I think everyone said at the beginning of the year they're the most talented team in the country," said Huggins, who called Lamb and Drummond NBA Draft lottery picks and Oriakhi and Napier professional players.  "When you look at their personnel, they have terrific personnel."

WVU led the regular-season game at Hartford by 10 points with 10:24 to go in the second half, but lost 64-57. The Huskies closed the game on a 28-11 run with Lamb and Drummond doing most of the damage, but getting plenty of help from the Mountaineers and their errors.

WVU shot 2-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-6 from 3-point range and committed five turnovers after building the lead.

"I think we're angry that we let that game slip away, especially at UConn, where we were up and pretty much had the game in control, but we're confident because we know we can play with them and beat them," Jones said. "We can beat them and we had a chance to beat them, but we have to learn from our mistakes and make sure we don't make them a second time."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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