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Boatright Eyes NBA Next

Kevin Ollie knows that Boatright's willingness to work will serve him well at the next level.

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    Boatright Eyes NBA Next
    Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright (11) drives past Tulsa’s Rashad Smith during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament in Hartford, Conn., on Saturday, March 14, 2015.

    Four years ago, then-junior Kemba Walker left UConn for the NBA. The Huskies had just made an improbable run through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments and there really was nothing left for him to accomplish.

    Last year, senior Shabazz Napier followed a similar script.

    Both were first-round picks.

    Now it's senior Ryan Boatright's turn. But unlike Walker and Napier, there is no NCAA title to celebrate, and it's unclear if he's a first-round talent in the eyes of NBA evaluators.

    "He's just so tiny," a veteran NBA scout told the Hartford Courant late in the season. "He's a special college player, but guys like that usually don't make it."

    After watching Boatright score 31 points against Houston, an NBA scout said, "He can get a shot anytime he wants it. He almost shot them out of that game, and then he shot them back in it."

    But Kevin Ollie, who went undrafted out of UConn but played 16 NBA seasons, knows that Boatright's willingness to work will serve him well at the next level.

    "When you step into an NBA locker room, you have 30-year-olds, 32-year-olds," Ollie told the Courant, "and you have to gain their respect. You gain their respect, not by talking, but by working. I think he's going to do that from day one. Hopefully he gets in a position when he can do that on a day-to-day basis, because I know that kid wants it."

    But the reality is that Boatright is at a physical disadvantage to 99 percent of the players he'll face in the NBA (although, frankly, you could have said that about the college competition).

    "I think he really established himself as a better shooter this year, "Ollie said. "If you're going to be that small at 5-9 — he claims he's 6 feet, so we'll say 6 feet — he has to be able to shoot. He really worked on that this year, really shooting the ball at a high pace. He had three people on him sometimes and he really shot the ball at a high rate from the three-point line."

    Still, Ollie remains optimistic.

    "I know there are going to be some great things for him in the future," the coach said. "I think he grew up as a man, as a basketball player. He has a lot of pride in getting better. God is preparing him for something great. That kid has grown a lot as a man, he has a bright future, whether it's in the NBA - he'll be playing somewhere and I'll be in back of him rooting all the way. Boat wants it; he's going to do whatever it takes to get it."