AURORA, Ill. – Ryan Boatright believes there can only be one explanation to why he isn’t more highly esteemed among high school basketball aficionados.
“A lot of people haven’t see me play,” the 5-foot-11 East Aurora senior said. “I think that’s got to be a big thing. Otherwise, I have no idea. We all wonder the same thing.”
Based on his stellar senior season, some might wonder why Boatright sweeping up the postseason awards and wasn’t selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Boatright was the hand-down selection as the ESPNChicago.com 2010-2011 Player of the Year following a season in which he consistently dominated, carried his team to more wins than anyone would have guessed and entertained every step of the way with his Tim Hardaway-like crossovers and nearly 40-inch vertical.
Thousands of people did witness what was tabbed the Boat Show this season, but few of those who waited in line to see Boatright play were those who have a say in the postseason accolades. East Aurora didn’t travel around the country competing in showcase events, and Boatright didn’t appear on national television. East Aurora didn’t even step foot into Chicago often, playing a bulk of its game in the suburbs.
Even during the spring and summer when a majority of national scouts create their opinions, Boatright was rarely seen. He played in only a handful of national events for the D Rose All-Stars. Instead, his time was spent with the 18-and-under United State Junior Olympic team, competing in Adidas Nations’ events and working out by himself in the gym.
“We went to nine tournaments, and Ryan only played in three,” said D Rose All-Stars coach Reggie Rose, who is Derrick Rose’s older brother. “We decided Ryan didn’t need to play in those games and needed to work on his game. If you look at the way he plays now, it’s totally different than it was before.
“The battle with Ryan being ranked higher is the same one we had with Derrick in AAU. He was ranked lower when he was younger, and it just sticks with a kid. It’s hard for a kid to shake away from it. I just tell Ryan to keep playing. If you look around the city and state, what guard is better than Ryan Boatright?”
Benet coach Gene Heidkamp echoed that statement. Although Heidkamp had his own all-state guard in David Sobolewski, played nearly every top team in the state and saw the rest of the area’s talent, Heidkamp placed Boatright well above them all.
Boatright also happened to be the one player who got the best of Benet this season. East Aurora powered by Boatright’s 29 points, 12 of 23 shooting, six assists, six rebounds and four steals upset top-ranked Benet in the sectional semifinals. It was Benet’s only loss this season.
“I think he has NBA talent,” Heidkamp said. “He has that skill set to take off. Talent-wise, this is my 18th year of coaching, and I can’t remember a guard as talented as he is. What impressed me more this year than last year was his ability to shoot from the perimeter.”
Boatright’s shot has put him into that elite category. He’s always been able to beat opponents off the dribble with his slick ball handling and quickness and rise above defenders in the lane with his hops. But he hasn’t always been able to knock down open jumpers when opposing coaches have given him room.
That changed this season. With that extra time in the gym over the offseason along with a few one-on-one tutorial sessions with Derrick Rose, Boatright has developed into a more consistent shooter. Repetition has helped, but he also better understands now how to get himself open for a shot off the dribble.
“I learned a lot of things from Derrick,” said Boatright, who has 10 tattoos. “I learned the whole separation thing. You see the separation he gets when he shoots. He steps back and has that mid-range game. I also learned how he finishes with the ball. He always shows the ball in one place and lays it up in another. His timing is perfect.”
Rose came away from their training sessions impressed.
"[We worked out] a couple of times when he was younger," Rose said. "But he can play, man. Always attacking, pass the ball, whatever you need him to do he's willing to do it."
Boatright had some nights this season even Rose didn’t experience in high school. Boatright went for 55 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals against St. Charles East. He scored 63 points against Proviso West. He dropped 41 points in his first career win over rival West Aurora.
For the season, he averaged 31.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists and led East Aurora to one of its best season in 30 years with a 24-6 record, a regional championship and sectional title game appearance.
Boatright’s numbers are what he should be judged upon, but there is more to Boatright from the fans’ perspective. There’s his style, and that’s why gyms were packed wherever he played this season.
His crossover is like what you see on a video game. He can do it over and over again, losing his defender a couple times before he actually makes his final move. With his height, his dunks are always crowd-pleasers. There are also his no-look passes and fade-away jumpers.
There’s also the fact he acknowledges the crowd. If people are yelling and clapping for him, his emotions rise, and he’s looking to entertain some more. The crowd feeds off his play, and he feeds off their emotion.
East Aurora coach Wendell Jefferies never tried to hold Boatright back in that regard.
“I’m the type of coach that lets his kids’ character come out,” Jefferies said. “He has a little flashiness and show about him. I don’t mind so much because he’s playing hard and playing within the system.
“I’m going to remember he made this year exciting. Everywhere he went whether home or on the road, everyone was out to see Boat.”
Boatright is frustrated he won’t be playing in the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago. He also expects he might experience the same feeling when the state’s Mr. Basketball award is announced later this month. Having not been the Chicago Sun-Times’ player of the year, which was given to Wayne Blackshear, or the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, which was awarded to Chasson Randle, there’s a good chance the state-wide Mr. Basketball voting could go against him, too.
Boatright has come to terms with being overlooked. What he’s looking forward to is displaying his game in the Big East for Connecticut next season. It’s then he believes his critics will finally have to eat their words.
“I feel like I’ll be the same player at the college level,” said Boatright, who previously was committed to USC and West Virginia. “I’ve always been small and got the job done. [Connecticut star] Kemba [Walker] is the same size as me as far as height. I’m not as small as people think I am. Kemba doesn’t nearly have as much as athleticism as I do. He can’t finish above the rim like I can.
“When I’m on national television and playing well and doing what I do, they don't have a choice, but [to] respect me.”