What’s on Tap: Bouknight’s Decisions Could Lead UConn Back to the Top
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
After his first year at UConn, guard James Bouknight proved he will earn a spot on an NBA roster at some point in his life. After declaring he will indeed be back at UConn next season, the question becomes: when he will decide to depart and enter his name in the NBA draft?
Bouknight showed his potential almost from the start. With his debut in the Charleston Classic where he scored 40 points in three days off the bench, to the SportsCenter top-10 dunk he had against East Carolina and scoring double-figures in all but three games as a starter, he showed he has the tools that of an NBA star.
Over the year, Bouknight averaged 13 points per game and drew comparisons to UConn stars of the past, such as Jeremy Lamb, Ben Gordon, and Rip Hamilton. He is poised to be the Huskies’ best player as they head back to the Big East in 2021 and is already on some draft radars.
For the Huskies, coming off a 19-12 season, they continue to make big strides under coach Dan Hurley, and will certainly be a tough matchup for conference opponents next year, at the very least.
Are they national title contenders? Not next year, no. Will Bouknight be a projected draft choice by the end of his sophomore season? Nobody can predict the future, but based on what he has shown, it seems inevitable.
Bouknight could follow in the footsteps of say, Lamb after his sophomore season: a great first two years, then leave, satisfied with being a mid- to lower–lottery pick and be on his way to an NBA career. Or he could make the same choice as Hamilton did after the 1998 season.
Longtime UConn fans remember the scenario. Hamilton was a lock to be a lottery pick after his sophomore year in ’98. He averaged 21.5 points per game leading the Huskies to the Elite Eight as a No. 2 seed. He was as good as drafted. Yet, he surprised everyone and made his decision, knowing what his team could do in 1999.
That 1999 team, led by Hamilton, did it, knocking out Duke and “shocking the world,” as Hamilton’s teammate Kahlid El-Amin said after the victory. Hamilton again averaged 21.5 points a game and led his team to their first ever national championship. Looking at today’s UConn roster, Bouknight could do the same.
Hamilton was hungry. He was not satisfied with what he accomplished at UConn to that point — he wanted to win. Bouknight strikes me as the same, as he posted on his Instagram a picture captioned, “We’ve got unfinished business…” with a hashtag reading “Big East vibes.”
Hamilton made the decision to come back for his junior season knowing he could win the program its first national title, and his legacy is cemented for it. If Bouknight does the same, he too can etch his name as a Husky great, as he, alongside a healthy Akok Akok and a more experienced Andre Jackson, Jalen Gaffney, Javonte Brown-Ferguson and the rest of the Huskies stars, could return UConn to the top where it once stood for 15 years.