East Aurora will play Neuqua Valley Friday night for the championship of the Class 4A Bolingbrook Regional. The Tomcats have already beaten the Wildcats twice this season. East is the better team and I expect it to beat Neuqua again -- but what if the Tomcats don't?
A loss would mark the end of Ryan Boatright's brilliant career at East High. Believe me, Boatright knows this -- every senior plays with urgency at this time of year. And even if Boatright meets his goal of leading East to the state tournament in Peoria, he'll be turning in his Tomcat uniform for the final time in about three weeks.
So, as Boatright's career winds down, we ponder. How will he do next year at the University of Connecticut? How does his game translate to the Big East? Will he be a rotation player as a college freshman? Could he start as a freshman? Does he have pro potential? These are questions that come up when you're watching a high school player who is averaging an astounding 31.2 points per game.
For my money, Boatright is neck-and-neck with Thomas Wyatt (East Aurora Class of 1990) for the unofficial title of best Tomcat hoop star I've seen in my lifetime. Wyatt was a hustler and a battler -- a top-notch defender and rebounder, as well as an elite scorer. Boatright is a more dynamic and explosive player, the kind of kid who brings people out of their seats when he has the ball in his hand.
The problem Wyatt had when he moved on to college was he was only 6-foot-6, a classic tweener who was more comfortable around the basket than on the perimeter. Wyatt went to the University of Utah, didn't connect well with then-coach Rick Majerus, transferred to some JuCo, then pretty much disappeared. I hear Wyatt is an assistant coach at Peoria Central these days. One can't help but wonder what would have happened had Wyatt been about three, maybe four inches taller.
When I look at Boatright, I find myself thinking the same thing ... "Man, if this kid were only three or four inches taller..." He has most everything you want in a point guard, except for size. I'm of the opinion that Boatright needs to improve his perimeter shot, but to his credit, he has improved that area of his game during his time at East High. But over the long haul, the biggest obstacle he'll have to overcome is the fact that he stands just 5-foot-10. Basketball is, after all, a big man's game.
We had a water-cooler discussion about Boatright and his future prospects in the newsroom the other day. OK, we don't have a water cooler, so we were just sitting at our desks talking about it. But I digress.
In the interest of full disclosure, sportswriters by nature are cynics. I've been in this business for 13 years and I've seen a lot of high school players come and go. I don't think the general public realizes how damn hard it is to be a successful player in major college sports. It's even harder still to one day make it to one of the professional leagues. An awful lot has to go right. I've seen a lot of good players who were awesome in high school not make it, for whatever reason.
Since we're talking basketball here, let's use the NBA as an example. There are 30 teams in the league and two rounds in the draft. That means only 60 guys get drafted every year, and only 30 get guaranteed contracts as first-round picks. The competition is fierce. There's only one way to break into the NBA (or any other pro league for that matter) -- you have to take another man's job. And those men really, really like those jobs.
So, when people ask me whether Ryan Boatright might one day play in the NBA, I say this: The list of guards under 6-foot to be drafted by NBA teams is a short one. The list of guards under 6-foot to succeed in the NBA is even shorter.
My colleague Jim Owczarski compiled this list of guards 6-feet-and-under who have been drafted by NBA teams over the last decade:
2009: No. 6 Jonny Flynn, 6-0 - Minnesota - starter, career averages 11.2 ppg, 4.1 assists
No. 18 - Ty Lawson, 6-0 - Minnesota - in Denver, career 9.3 ppg, 3.5 assists
No. 55 - Patrick Mills, 6-0 - Portland - career 5.1 ppg, 1.7 assists
2008: No. 9 - DJ Augustin, 5-11 - Charlotte - career 10.4 ppg, 3.8 asts - 14.3 ppg, 6.1 assists this yr.
No. 42 - Sean Singletary, 6-0 - Sacramento - out of the league, played 37 games in 08-09
2007: No. 26 - Aaron Brooks, 6-0 - Houston - in Phoenix,, career 12.7 ppg, 3.6 assists, career high 19.6 ppg in 09-10 w/ Houston
No. 52 - Taurean Green, 6-0 - Portland - out of league, played 17 games in 07-08
2006: No. 24 - Kyle Lowry, 6-0 - Memphis - now in Houston, career 13.2 ppg, 6.1 assists
No. 46 - Dee Brown, 6-0 - Utah - out of league, played 68 games from 06-07 to 08-09
No. 60 - Will Blalock, 6-0 - Detroit - out of the league, played 14 games in 06-07
2005: No. 21 - Nate Robinson, 5-9 - Phoenix - in Ok. City, career 11.3 ppg, 2.6 assists
2004: No. 13 - Sebastian Telfair, 6-0 - Portland - In Minnesota, career 7.4 ppg, 5.9 assists
No. 20 - Jameer Nelson, 6-0 - Denver - In Orlando, career 12.4 ppg, 4.8 assists
No. 24 - Lionel Chalmers, 6-0 - L.A. Clippers - out of the league, played 36 games in 04-05
2003: No. 8 - T.J. Ford, 6-0 - Milwaukee - In Indy, career 11.5 ppg, 5.9 assists
2002: No. 28 - Dan Dickau, 6-0 - Sacramento - out of league, played 300 games for 6 teams career 5.8 ppg, 2.5 assists. Averaged 12.5 ppg in 04-05 for Dallas and New Orleans
No. 30 - Steve Logan, 6-0 - Golden State - out of league, never played
2001: No. 24 - Raul Lopez, 6-0 - Utah - out of league, played 113 games from 03-04 to 04-05
2000: No. 20 - Craig "Speedy" Claxton, 5-11 - Philadelphia - out of league, 7 yr career average 9.33 ppg, 4.3 assists
No. 34 - Khalid El-Amin, 5-10 - Chicago - out of league, played 50 games in 00-01
No. 58 - Scoonie Penn, 5-10 - Atlanta - never played
So, over 10 years, only 21 guys 6-foot-and-under have been drafted by NBA teams. Only four were chosen as lottery picks. Roughly half of the 21 have had decent careers in the league. None are perennial All-Stars. Of this group, Jameer Nelson is probably the best player.
These are the odds a kid like Boatright faces as far as one day making it to the NBA. The good news is all of the 21 players on this list had good-to-outstanding college careers. A lot of players Boatright's size have success at the major college level. That's really what you have to hope for if you're a Ryan Boatright fan -- that he has a terrific college career and is able to earn a degree from the University of Connecticut.
If basketball as a career works out for him one day, that would be super. But no one should ever expect that to happen. If Boatright one day graduates from college, I would consider his basketball career a tremendous success -- whether he ever signs a pro contract or not.