By Joe Henricksen
The superlatives are endless and the comparisons are hard to find when watching and talking about East Aurora’s Ryan Boatright.
In the biggest week of the season for Boatright’s Tomcats, the freakishly talented guard put his team on his back and carried it to wins over Neuqua Valley and rival West Aurora in front of 4,300-plus fans and a sold out East High gym. Every time East Aurora really needed something, he got it for them.
After taking in both of Boatright’s games on Thursday night and again Saturday — and a few others this season, including the 55-point highlight reel he put together against St. Charles North — it’s become more and more clear: Boatright is the state’s greatest show this side of Simeon.
When Boatright is in the gym, there’s a buzz. And that’s rare in high school basketball for an individual player to pump that much life into a gym. In fact, in the last 25 years, the only players to bring the same anxious anticipation from those in attendance were Farragut’s Ronnie Fields, Simeon’s Derrick Rose and Glenbrook North’s Jon Scheyer. I remember the buzz Fields, the former Farragut dunking machine, generated in the 1990s in front of overflow crowds. Scheyer became a bit of a folk hero over the course of his four nearly unmatched varsity seasons. Rose’s arrival and subsequent three years of varsity greatness became must-see events several years back. Now it’s Boatright’s turn to fire up the masses.
With each headline-grabbing performance, the expectations on Boatright are reaching seismic proportions. That happens when you regularly put up 40-plus with games of 63 and 55 points in a season and have a style that makes fans put off the bathroom breaks until halftime or after the game. People enter that gym waiting to see just what he will and can do next. Typically, his production comes in such grand fashion.
For the first four minutes of the game against West Aurora on Saturday night, Boatright didn’t put up — gasp! — a single point. You start to think, “OK, veteran coaching icon Gordie Kerkman and West Aurora’s typically strong halfcourt defense has an answer for Boat.”
A four-point play jumpstarted the UConn recruit and he promptly went on one of his scoring binges. West Aurora tried it all — started in man, tried a zone, gave a box-and-one a shot and nearly called Kenny Battle out of the stands to try and defend Boatright, who scored 41 entertaining points over the next 28 minutes.
The pure Boatright excitement-meter is due to how he goes about getting his points. I can’t remember the last time a player scored this many points in such a dazzling, don’t-you-dare-blink-and-miss-something flashy fashion. We’re talking about the fastest, most explosive coast-to-coast player with the ball in his hands in the state, period. He has the type of speed, change of gears and explosion that makes him absolutely unguardable in the open court.
Boatright has put the time in to shore up deficiencies over the last three years. The result has been a steady progression in becoming a complete and unstoppable scorer and creator. He’ll break three or four pairs of opposing player’s ankles each game in leading to some wow finishes at the rim in the halfcourt, but he has become an efficient shooter with a quick release, elevation and range. There aren’t many guards at his size that gets more done in the 5 to 10 feet range with his stop-on-a-dime, rising, pull-up jumpers and floaters.
And the underrated aspect of his game is an unmatched confidence he has over nearly everyone he plays against. Sometimes the swagger may rub some the wrong way, but it’s a thrill ride that energizes him and takes his game to another level.
East Aurora is not blessed with a whole bunch of talent, though Snoop Viser’s recent revived shooting stroke makes them an awfully dangerous 1-2 punch. But when you watch the Tomcats, they get so many trouble-free scoring opportunities. Boatright creates his own piece-of-cake scoring chances in transition, but he also draws so much attention that it leads to three or four layups off beautiful assists and three or four easy put-backs on the offensive glass because defenses are scrambling and out of position in sending two and three players at Boatright.
Boatright, though, is not at his best in the open court or when he’s one-on-one with a helpless defender or when his jumper is falling. He’s at his best when the ongoing transformation that has taken place over the last three-plus years is in effect, which is staying composed and keeping his head on straight and mind clear when things aren’t going just right.
Considering how combustible Boatright has been at times throughout his career, he has clearly handled on-the-floor situations in a much more calming way. He’s matured as a player. The bouts he had early in his career with griping at officials, snapping at a teammate and showing his frustration truly impacted his game. For the most part, those negatives have disappeared over the course of a 32-minute game during his senior year. He’s now a better and more dangerous player because of it, playing freely and not letting a bad call, a teammate’s mistake or physical play get the best of him.
As a result, Boatright is dissecting, devouring and dicing up any defense thrown his way. And there is no one in this state playing better or at a higher level or in a more dominating fashion than Boatright.