With First Night completed and the season-opening exhibition a week away, it is time for the UConn men’s basketball team to lock in for the upcoming season. But for the third-straight season, the Huskies have a major distraction to contend with first.
Freshman James Bouknight was charged by campus police with evading responsibility, interfering with a police officer, traveling too fast for conditions and operation of a motor vehicle without a license, following a “vehicular incident” on Sept. 27, according to a statement from UConn athletic communications on Tuesday.
“Like many college freshmen away from home for the first time, James made some immature decisions that will affect not only himself, but his family and his teammates,” head coach Dan Hurley said in a statement. “But he accepted responsibility for his actions early on and will deal with the consequences within the structure of the team as well as on the outside. I am confident that he will use this unfortunate situation as a hard learning experience.”
According to the police report, Bouknight was speeding through campus around 1:32 a.m. on Sept. 27 when he collided with a street sign at the intersection of Royce Circle and Wilbur Cross Way in Downtown Storrs. When a campus police officer asked Bouknight for identification, he fled from the scene. Bouknight was later found at a dorm where he made a written statement admitting to his actions, as well as confessing he did not have a valid driver’s license.
Bouknight officially turned himself in on an outstanding warrant on Monday and was released on $1500 bond. He is scheduled to appear in Rockville Superior Court on Oct. 29, the day before UConn’s exhibition against Saint Michael’s. Bouknight was not available for comment on Tuesday, but did release a statement through the school.
“I was irresponsible and made some foolish choices that I regret,” Bouknight said in the statement. “I want to apologize to my family, my coaches and my teammates for this situation and for creating an unnecessary distraction as we get ready for the upcoming season. But I intend to use this experience to learn from my mistakes and make better life decisions going forward.”
Hurley addressed the topic with the media on Tuesday, saying there have been “internal punishments and discipline” since the incident occurred, but Bouknight has not missed a practice. Although Bouknight has not been officially suspended, his status for the exhibition and beyond remains uncertain.
“In terms of suspension, we gotta let the process play out, and obviously we’re also gauging James’s response to the situation,” Hurley said. “But in the end, the biggest fallout from this is gonna be the damage to his reputation – the shame, the embarrassment that he’s caused himself, his family, the program, his teammates, all of us here. James comes from a great family, two great parents that have raised him to make much better choices than he made that night.”
Two seasons ago, junior Jalen Adams was involved in a scooter accident just days before the season, which led to an arrest and a one-game suspension. Last season, Adams was again suspended for the exhibition for a different incident, and redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson missed the first six games of the season after a violation of team rules from the season prior.
On Tuesday, Hurley stressed that he deals with each situation individually, and repeatedly reaffirmed the program continues to support Bouknight despite his “bad choices that night.”
“It became one bad decision which led to another bad decision, and we’re grateful that no one was injured,” Hurley said. “He’ll deal with the legal system, and he’ll deal with reading his name attached to a very embarrassing situation.”
Bouknight told the team about the incident the following day, and has been a full participant since. If anything, he has been pushed harder than anyone else on the team – but Hurley has made sure not to alienate the 19-year-old freshman.
“I’m already a tough guy to play for, so compound that with choices that he made that night, it’s been extremely uncomfortable for him to be in and around the program,” Hurley said. “But what I’m not a big proponent of is isolating him based on this situation.”
Bouknight has been “in a very bad place” waiting for the news to break, according to his coach. Hurley told the freshman the consequences are not going away anytime soon, but as long as Bouknight continues to accept responsibility, the program will continue to stand by him.
“This is gonna be attached to him for the next several years, minimum, and that’s a hard thing,” Hurley said. “He has to not let this situation define him…through the legal process, through people looking at him differently, through people on social media, through opposing crowds having this material. There’s a lot that’s gonna come his way, and we’re gonna support him – we’re family.”
“I believe in James,” Hurley, who was wearing a UConn shirt with “Family” written across the chest, continued. “This was very out-of-character for him. James has been a model student-athlete since he’s been here…I have extreme confidence that from here on out, everything attached to James will be really, really positive.”
Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @asmor24.