Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
UNION, N.J. — All college basketball players compete to make a run in the postseason, but Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and their UConn teammates didn’t have that chance a year ago.
UConn was banned from the postseason because of their sub-standard APR scores and the Huskies missed out on the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.
A year later, Boatright and Napier are starving for a chance to get back into the postseason.
“Oh man, we extremely motivated, man,” Boatright told SNY.tv last month at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University. “We got something back that they took from us. We had nothing to do with those allegations. Everybody’s working hard, we’re determined and we’re here to make a run for that title, man.”
Said Napier: “For myself, I’m just excited that we no longer have to take somebody’s blame. We can actually work our way to being a great team and we can make a run to make an appearance in the tournament. It’s a good feeling.”
The 6-foot Boatright flirted with entering the NBA Draft after averaging 15.4 points and 4.4 assists, but ultimately decided he to come back for his junior year after battling tendonitis and an ankle injury last year.
“I considered it a lot,” Boatright said. “It actually took to the last day and a half for me to decide that I was going to come back to school. I just felt like with us being able to play in the tournament and me getting another year of experience I felt like I could raised my stock a lot more this year than I did last year…
“I felt like I need to try to dominate the college game before I go on to the next level. I had mediocre seasons, but I need to have a great season. I’m a whole ‘nother player. I got a lot better since last year just from those eight weeks. I’ve been working real hard, I’ve been in the weight room, I done put on some some weight. I’m healthy so I gotta keep it like that. My tendonitis ain’t acting up as bad, so I’m just trying to stay healthy and make a run next year.
Napier, meantime, says he’s finally healthy after initially breaking his pinky toe and undergoing surgery.
“I’m feeling a lot better than I did during the season, which is always a good thing,” said Napier, who averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds last year.
Second-year coach Kevin Ollie believes that the experiences at the Kyrie Irving Skill Academy will help both Boatright and Napier going forward.
“When the draft come up, these are the same guys that are going to be drafted right around them, but every day you gotta challenge within yourself,” Ollie told SNY.tv last week at the Nike Global Challenge.
“They’re also able to be around a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches. I know Shabazz sought out John Lucas and was able to talk to him just about stuff off the court…I think they learned from that.”
The Huskies are now part of the 10-team American Athletic Conference, where they will battle defending NCAA champion Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati atop the league standings.
“I think it’s a good league,” Boatright said. “I think there’s some good competition in there. Obviously, it’s not the Big East, but it is what it is and we gotta take care of business in that conference. We can’t go in there thinking it’s not the Big East and come out on the bottom. So don’t take them lightly and go in there and handle our business.”
Still, Boatright concedes he has a fondness for the Big East.
“The Big East was a historic conference,” he said. “I watched it all my life growing up and I hated to see it broke up. And it made me the great player I am today, coming in and playing those two years my freshman and sophomore years. I didn’t like to see it get broken up but it is and I don’t got no control over that.”
Boatright said he’s especially looking forward to matchup up against the Louisville guards, including incoming point guard Chris Jones and returning off guard Russ Smith.
“It’s going to be a good matchup for the guards …so it’s going to be fun to go head-to-head with them,” he said.
Incoming guard Terrence Samuel of Brooklyn South Shore will arrive on campus in August, he confirmed to SNY.tv….Ollie believes incoming bigs Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah will help out immediately. The Huskies were especially thin on the front line last year after the departures of Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley. “They’re going to bring energy,” Ollie said. “I don’t have to coach effort with those guys. Actually, Amidah was in the gym Fourth of July, so I don’t think he knew that was Independence Day or anything. He was in the gym working. And Kentan is the same way. And it’s just unbelievable to see them off the court work just as hard in their academic studies. They’re able to get six credits for the summertime and they get acclimated to what we expect our basketball players and our students to do. I think they’ve got a world of talent and we was hurting in that area last year. I think they can give us some shot-blocking and some rebounding that we desperately needed last year.”…Ollie also praised DeAndre Daniels, who averaged 12.1 points last year after averaging 3.0 points as a highly touted frosh. The 6-8 Daniels “went to Kevin Durant camp and was able to spend some time with him,” Ollie said. “I just like him showing more leadership and that’s what he’s been doing. The basketball is the basketball but he’s been more open and showing people his personality.”…UConn plays Boston College in the 2K Classic Nov. 21 at Madison Square Garden and could play the Indiana/Washington winner Nov. 22. UConn also hosts Florida and Stanford in independent games. “We got a great out-of-conference schedule. That’s what I wanted to show everybody that we have a great team,” he said.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.