Hurley looking to replace Bouknight's talent with team depth
It's difficult to accurately measure James Bouknight's impact on the UConn basketball program.
Bouknight played a significant role in the Huskies returning to the national spotlight, helping them earn an NCAA tournament bid for the first time in five years before leaving Storrs after his sophomore season to prepare for a professional career.
As part of their recruiting pitch, the UConn coaching staff regularly mentions Bouknight's name as a prime example of the program's success in developing players.
On Thursday, Bouknight will bring even more attention to UConn when he's expected to be selected in lottery pick territory at the 2021 NBA Draft in Brooklyn, N.Y, his hometown.
"Obviously with a situation likes James' when you talk about your player development and what we try to do at UConn in terms of an 11-month a year commitment to help players get to the highest level, he's certainly the poster child," said coach Dan Hurley during a Zoom session with the media on Tuesday. "He's not the only example we have of player development. We've had a lot of guys that improved their stock since we've been here. But James is the poster child."
"I don't think there is a recruit that we've gotten since James has been here that James didn't impact in some way. Whether that was Andre Jackson seeing him on the visit, Jordan Hawkins watching him, Rahsool (Diggins), players we are recruiting in 2022, 2023 and beyond. James' impact will be felt for a long time."
Bouknight will join a long list of former UConn stars that went on to become lottery picks and impacted the program for years after their last jump shot in Storrs.
Go back to the program's very first lottery pick, Donyell Marshall, who was taken No. 4 by Minnesota in 1994. Two years after Marshall departed for the NBA, Ray Allen rose to lottery pick status, going No. 5 in the 1996 draft.
Marshall and Allen elevated the program and raised UConn's recruiting profile before leaving Storrs, eventually leading to the Huskies winning their first of four NCAA titles in 1999.
From 1999 to 2012, the Huskies had 11 players go on to become lottery picks, but none in the last eight years.
Bouknight will likely end that drought on Thursday.
By the end of his freshman year, Bouknight already was considered a late first round draft choice but chose to return for another season.
Bouknight's breakout game came last December against Big East foe Creighton when he scored 40 points in an overtime loss. He continued to improve his stock during the pre-draft process with strong showings at his pro day and team workouts.
"James became a lottery pick probably when he dropped 40 during the Big East game (against Creighton)...," Hurley said. "James at that point really was elevating his stock through the early part of the year. Then he moved up in the lottery, not just with his pro day, but also when teams meet him and they watch how hard he gets after it on the practice floor.
"Then when you spend time around him, he is very charismatic. He is very engaging. He has that star quality, that 'It' factor."
Whatever NBA team drafts the former Husky will get a talented, competitive player with a passion for the game, according to Hurley who believes Bouknight has "all-star potential."
When asked to compare Bouknight to a current NBA player, Hurley picked CJ McCollum, a shooting guard for the Portland Trail Blazers.
"He's got such a unique talent because he's explosive, he can score at all three levels and he's a dynamic one-on-one player," Hurley said. "And he makes incredibly difficult shots, which is what the NBA is about, winning matchups and winning one-on-ones because you get a chance to play in space with the defensive rules."
With Bouknight moving on, Hurley has the challenging task of trying to replace a lethal scorer, inspirational team leader and alpha dog personality.
No one player can fill Bouknight's starring role.
"There are not many players in the country that are like James," Hurley said. "And you can't replace a star like that with just somebody else. But what we do have, though, is a number of really, really good players. We probably have seven, eight, nine, potentially even 10 guys that can get us somewhere between seven and 14 or 15 points a game, which is very similar to what I had at Rhode Island with some of my great teams there. We had such tremendous balance and so many different people could beat you on any given night that we were very, very hard to prepare for.
"The strength of this team is going to be the balance. I think we are going to have a couple of guys that go from 12 a game to 14 or 15 a game. We are going to have a number of guys that will be living in that seven to 11 range, too. It's just going to make us really, really hard to deal with.
"Add to that hopefully an elite defense and an air-tight culture, and you are a formidable program. I think we've got young guys that have NBA talent just like James, whether you are talking about some of these freshmen we brought in or Adama (Sanogo) or Andre. We've got a very, very deep and very, very mature team."
For now, Hurley will focus on being there for Bouknight's big night on Thursday. He'll attend the NBA Draft.
News and notes
While UConn's roster for the 2020-21 season appears set, Hurley hasn't ruled out adding a player that will sit out as a redshirt. "With this team returning, I have no more minutes for anybody. It's going to be a war for roles and for minutes with this team. I don't need any more guys in here that are going to be looking at me to put them in the game. So redshirts only." ... The Huskies have had a healthy and productive six weeks of summer workouts. No one has missed a practice during that time. ... Conference realignment talk is heating up again in other areas of the country. Hurley had a laugh about it with athletic director David Benedict. "It feels great to be where we are right now, I'll tell you that. We were obviously great for the Big East this year, too."
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