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James Bouknight's sights are set on a big sophomore season

Dan Hurley knew early on that he needed to lock up James Bouknight before the gifted guard played his senior season at the MacDuffie School.

The rest of the country saw why last winter as Bouknight shined during UConn’s first winning season in three years.

So while some fans fretted about whether Bouknight would be back for another year, the 6-foot-4 guard knew all along that was part of the plan.

“Before I got to UConn, the plan was always to stay for two years,” he said during a Zoom chat with beat writers on Wednesday.

Of course, this season remains in limbo due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but there is plenty of reason for UConn fans to be excited about once - and if - a season gets underway. At the top of that list is the young man who wears jersey No. 2.

“Hurley keeps stressing to me that I’m going to be a target,” Bouknight said. “I’m just pushing myself to play at 110 percent in any drill, any workout, even attacking my school (work) and my mind.”

After a rough start to his UConn career due to an off-the-court incident, Bouknight emerged as a star in the making as the Huskies finished 19-12, including a five-game winning streak heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament.

Bouknight averaged 13 points and 4.1 rebounds on the way to becoming just the 20th UConn freshman to score at least 300 points. He earned All-AAC third-team and rookie team honors.

In the Huskies’ final 13 games, where they went 9-4, Bouknight averaged 17.1 points and 5.0 rebounds.

With the Huskies moving back into the spotlight by rejoining the Big East, Bouknight knows the lights will be even brighter on him this season.

“I’ve just been locked in doing things on and off the court,” he said.

Among the things Bouknight has worked on in the gym are 3-point shooting and ball handling.

“I’ve been putting up more shots and doing simple ball-handling drills,” he said.

His Husky teammates are certainly well-aware of what Bouknight is capable of doing on the court.

“He’s a very special type of talent,” said junior guard R.J. Cole, who made sure to educate himself on Bouknight’s play while sitting out last season. “Just watching him and knowing the things he likes to do, where he likes to shoot from, where he likes the ball.”

With Christian Vital signing to play overseas and Alterique Gilbert off to Wichita State, the Huskies need some backcourt leaders to emerge. Bouknight says he can be that guy.

“This year I’m trying to be more of a vocal leader by talking to guys when they make mistakes and helping the new guys get into rhythm,” he said. “Definitely acting as a professional … pushing people to work hard.”

Fans and members of the program are keeping their fingers crossed that Bouknight will have the chance to play one more season at UConn, but that’s not something he’s worried about at the moment.

“I have not really thought about what’s going to happen if we don’t have a season,” he said.