UConn men open regular season without suspended Bouknight
The day before UConn basketball's season opener, coach Dan Hurley announced the punishment for freshman James Bouknight.
Bouknight is suspended for the first three games, including Friday's season opener against Sacred Heart at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs (7 p.m., SNY).
The news was expected.
Facing charges related to his involvement in an on-campus vehicular incident on Sept. 27, Bouknight didn't play in either the closed scrimmage against Harvard or last week's exhibition win over Saint Michael's College.
Hurley talked to UConn athletic director David Benedict before reaching his decision and also relied on his coaching instincts.
"After deliberating on it and understanding all the information relative to the situation and dealing with James, just internally and externally with everything, it just feels like it's appropriate," Hurley told reporters after practice on Thursday.
"I think the story, the narrative about his career I believe will be about championships and rebuilding his reputation."
Season openers are usually anxiety-filled affairs for Hurley. Playing without one of his top reserves certainly won't help his stress level.
The Huskies should be able to win without Bouknight facing a Sacred Heart team that lost its season opener at Providence, 106-60, on Tuesday. The Pioneers (0-1) have dropped all six prior meetings in the series, never coming closer than 18 points.
But Bouknight's loss will likely be felt when the talented guard sits out against St. Joseph's on Wednesday and nationally-ranked Florida on Nov. 17. He's expected to be on the bench for both games. He'll return to action for the Charleston (S.C.) Classic, which features three games and starts on Nov. 21.
"It's been a rough month. And it's not over for him," Hurley said. "Sitting there is obviously going to be very difficult for him. ... These are the highly anticipated moments. Everything he's dealt with, the shame of it, the embarrassment of it, and now not to be able to start the season with your team. It was dream for him to come and play at UConn and it's turned nightmarish in the last month."
The Huskies are upbeat and optimistic about the upcoming season, Hurley's second in Storrs. They expect to vastly improve on last season's 16-17 overall record and hope to contend for a post-season bid.
With seven returning players, they're more experienced than last season. They're also possess more talent and depth.
"Just as a program I think we're in a better place," Hurley said. "We're rebuilding a championship program while at the same time we have some older players that we feel like and they feel like are good enough to have a good year."
Friday's game will mark the UConn debut of redshirt freshman Akok Akok, who's expected to start in the frontcourt, and freshman guard Jalen Gaffney.
UCONN vs. SACRED HEART
Location: Gampel Pavilion
Tip: 7 p.m. (SNY)
Records: UConn 0-0, Sacred Heart 0-1
Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 r-jr. guard Alterique Gilbert, 6-2 sr. guard Christian Vital, 6-9 jr. forward Tyler Polley, 6-9 r-fr. forward Akok Akok, 6-11 jr. center Josh Carlton
Sacred Heart, 6-1 r-sr. guard Kinnon LaRose (11 pts, 5 rebs), 6-2 so. guard Cameron Parker (5 pts, 5 assists), 6-1 so. guard Koreem Ozier (3 pts), 6-6 jr. forward E.J. Anosike (20 pts, 7 rebs), 6-10 r-sr. forward Jare'l Spellman (7 pts, 8 rebs, 2 blks)
Noteworthy: Season opener for the Huskies. ... Sacred Heart lost at Providence, 106-60, on Tuesday. Anosike led Pioneers with 20 pts, 7 rebs. ... Series: UConn leads, 6-0, winning by an average of 34.3 points and scoring 92.3 points per game. Last met in 2015. ... Out: UConn fr. James Bouknight (suspension). ... Pioneers picked to finish second in Northeast Conference. Anosike, preseason All-NEC team pick, one of four returning starters. ... Spellman needs one block to set SHU record as a Division I program. ... Top reserve: 6-1 so. guard Aaron Clarke (12 pts) ... Huskies won 18 of last 19 season openers, 86-30 overall. ... UConn returns 62.4 percent of its scoring, 57.2 percent of its rebounding. .... Vital ranks 36th on program's all-time scoring list with 1,228 career points. ... UConn beat Division II Saint Michael's, 103-64, in lone exhibition game. ... UConn hosts St. Joseph's Wednesday in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe
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