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Bouknight: good enough for the NBA, but is he ready?

Ah, the good ol' days. This was one of them. Not necessarily the outcome, of course. But a hearty hearkening to what Jim Calhoun used to call one of the "18 waws" (that's "wars" in the coach's endearing Boston accent) UConn would always encounter in the Big East.

Fittingly, television cameras showed the jersey of Collin Gillespie, the Main Guy on the Main Line, spattered with blood late in what became Villanova 68, UConn 60. Blood was the perfect punctuation to all the pushing, shoving, tripping, whistles, airborne bodies, elbows and other requisite essentials for the proverbial Calhoun-esque "waw."

And yet the physicality of what transpired Saturday at Finneran Pavilion probably doesn't amount to a gnat's eyelash in comparison to what James Bouknight will encounter in the NBA next year. Based on Saturday's evidence, here is a question:

Is Bouknight, who has appeared in all of eight games this year and 39 in his college career, ready for such rigors?

Notez bien: This does not suggest in any way Bouknight isn't good enough. There's a reason Steve Lavin said in the Fox halftime studio Saturday that Bouknight could play in the NBA for a decade. Marvelous talent.

No, this asks a different question: Is he ready?

Because if Saturday's physicality produced all the grimaces and other uncomfortable body language we saw from Bouknight, what's going to happen when he has to take a charge from Giannis next year? They might be scraping up body parts all the way to the rest room.

Turns out the "as Bouknight goes, so goes UConn" thing is even more layered. UConn certainly passes the eye test as to what an NCAA tournament team resembles. But the Huskies still have more work to do. Same with Bouknight: He passes the eye test as to what an NBA player looks like. But he has more work to do.

Before we get to the thoughts of Saturday's dramatis personae, let's address the room's elephant: Who am I (or anybody else) to tell a kid to turn down a gazillion dollars and a pro career? All I'm saying is that Bouknight would benefit from another year of "18 waws" to get his body and mind ready for the onrushing Giannis.

"This is James' second game in five days. Gotta have some patience," UConn coach Dan Hurley said after Saturday's game. "It's a tough ask to put together a virtuoso performance with one game (played) in 45 days and five practices."

More Hurley: "(Bouknight) got a little nicked up. They were pretty physical with him. Just bruised up, banged up. More of his issue today was fatigue, conditioning. As he got tired, he probably just tried to do a little bit too much. ... He needs to get conditioning and cardio back to game level."

No arguments from this corner. It's a tough ask, indeed, to get 40 against the No. 10 team in the country five days after missing six weeks. But then, I don't recall wondering whether Rip, Kemba or Emeka was 50-50 to get up every time they hit the deck. I kind of wondered that every time Bouknight went to the floor Saturday.

Bouknight: "(fatigue) is not an excuse. I pushed hard and I played through it. I'm not going to use that as an excuse. ... I just fell on my elbow. I wasn't worried at all. ... I don't think cardio played a factor. I think I did a bad job with my body language. That's because I hold myself to such a high standard. When things don't go the way I want them to, it's hard for me to hold it in."

Totally appreciate the honesty here. But aren't those the kind of things better honed in college than on the fly in The League?

There is always the fear of injury. Then poof goes the money. But James Bouknight would return next year as one of the top 10 (five?) players in the country. Sorry, but he looks a little brittle to me to handle the totality of physicality that's the 82-game NBA regular season. He's had a hard time handling an 8-game college season to date.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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