Next month, former Oregon big man Chris Boucher hopes to hear his name called in the 2017 NBA draft. Five years ago, that would’ve sounded insane – even to Chris.
That’s because Boucher was barely interested in basketball back in 2012. The 6-foot-8 teenager would put up shots with friends sometimes, but the sport wasn’t part of his life. He was focused on getting by, working a minimum-wage job at a restaurant in Montreal after dropping out of high school.
“I was not playing basketball,” Boucher told HoopsHype. “I tried out for one of my [school] teams when I was really young and I ended up not liking it. So the only thing I would do is shoot around with my friends, but I had never played any kind of structured basketball before.”
That changed when some of the friends that Boucher would shoot around with signed up for a local tournament and asked the big man to participate. Boucher reluctantly agreed to play, and that’s when his life changed forever.
“I was just working at this restaurant and a couple of my friends were going to this tournament and I figured, ‘Why not?’” Boucher said. “So we went and we were playing against college guys from my city, and I ended up scoring 44 points. Before that, I had sent an application to play for an AAU team and I never got an answer from them. Well, that coach ended up going to the tournament and saw me play.”
The coach was Igor Rwigemahe, who told Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated that he didn’t respond to Boucher’s AAU application because he assumed it was a 5-foot-8 kid who mistakenly entered his height as 6-foot-8. Since Montreal doesn’t have a huge basketball scene, he didn’t think it was possible there was a 6-foot-8 kid he hadn’t heard about or seen. After realizing that Boucher was real, Rwigemahe offered him a spot on his team at Alma Academy, which is a Quebec prep school.
“He gave me the opportunity to play basketball and go to school,” Boucher said. “Since I didn’t really like my job, I decided to go to Alma. That was a great school and we’d play people from the States.”
After doing well at Alma Academy, Boucher went to two JUCO schools and climbed the ranks of college basketball.
“I went to New Mexico Junior College and realized that I could do so much more,” Boucher said. “I realized I may be able to play Division I basketball, but I didn’t think that was the place for me to get to DI. So I ended up going to Northwest College in Wyoming and winning JUCO Player of the Year.”
It was at this point that playing DI basketball went from being a long shot to a foregone conclusion.
“My first year in New Mexico, I was getting some letters [from schools], but I was just a freshman; I still had another year of JUCO and I thought they sent them to everyone,” Boucher said. “Then, when I got to Northwest, the coaches from Oregon actually came to see me play and I realized, ‘I may really have a chance to play DI.’ Then, more coaches started coming to watch my games and I realized how real it was, the chance for me to play DI on a scholarship.”
He decided to go to Oregon, where he continued to thrive.
“At Oregon, Coach [Dana] Altman put me in a great position where I was able to block shots, shoot threes and run the floor,” Boucher said. “It was definitely the right place for me to play.”
During his two years at Oregon, he averaged 12 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in just 24.8 minutes per game. He shot 53.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range. His career PER (26.8), True Shooting Percentage (61.1 percent), Block Percentage (11.8 percent, fifth-best in the nation) and Box Plus/Minus (10.3) would be extremely impressive for any player, but they’re downright jaw-dropping for someone relatively new to the game. Over the last two seasons, he had 13 games in which he blocked 5 or more shots (including a 9-block game against Arkansas State). He finished his career at Oregon ranked second in program history in blocked shots (189) and also fourth in career field goal percentage (53.2 percent).
As Winn of Sports Illustrated pointed out, Boucher is “just the third major-conference player of this decade to average at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks per 40 minutes with an offensive efficiency rating of at least 120.” You may recognize the other two players who posted these numbers: No. 1 picks Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Throughout this past season, Boucher had a number of dominant performances. He had 23 points (on 9-14 shooting from the field), 19 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals in a win over Montana – becoming just the fourth NCAA player this season to have a 20-point, 15-rebound, 5-block game. In a win against Valparaiso, he recorded 25 points (on 9-12 shooting from the field, including 3-5 from three-point range), 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. Last year, Boucher posted 17 points (on 5-7 shooting from the field), 9 blocks and 9 rebounds in a win against Arkansas State. He also contributed 26 points (on 8-12 shooting from the field, including 4-8 from three), 10 rebounds and 7 blocks in a win versus Arizona State.
These are the kind of games that intrigue NBA executives because they showcased Boucher’s ability to dominate both ends of the floor even though he’s still very raw given his lack of real experience. How good can Boucher become if he bulks up and is in an NBA development program?
“I feel like I have untapped potential,” Boucher said. “When you get in the NBA, you work on your game way more and you’re more free to find out what you’re capable of doing. I feel like that’s definitely going to help me out. I did a lot this year, but I know I can do more. Every day, I’m working on my game and learning new stuff.”
All of this is surreal to Boucher. He never even imagined playing college basketball, much less becoming a legitimate NBA prospect who’s signed to the same agency (Roc Nation Sports) as superstars like Kevin Durant, Dez Bryant and Robinson Canó.
In today’s NBA, teams covet big men who can protect the rim and shoot out to three-point range. That describes Boucher, which is why he’ll very likely be playing in the NBA soon.
The only issue is that he tore the ACL in his left knee in the Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals against Cal. He actually managed to continue playing after suffering the injury, contributing 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the Ducks’ win. The injury has hurt his draft stock – mainly because he isn’t able to work out for NBA teams. However, he did get invited to the NBA combine and was interviewed by 10 teams.
“It was a good experience,” Boucher said of the combine. “They were asking me what I could bring to a team, and asking about my background and my story. Most of them had already read about it, but they wanted to hear about it from me. They also asked about how my game would translate to the NBA. There were some general managers in the room, and it really helped me out. You realize this is a job and how professional you have to be. They also offered some good advice and some talked about what their plan for me would be if they picked me.
“Some of them mentioned me being a ‘unicorn’ since it’s rare to be able to shoot the three and also be able to block shots. I think my game will translate because of the little things too – things like running the floor and creating mismatches. I think with the way the NBA is going, you want every guy on the floor to be able to shoot the ball and I think that will definitely help me out since it’s part of my game. Most of the NBA teams seemed excited about it.”
While Boucher wasn’t able to workout or do the combine testing, Oregon did their own measurements and testing prior to the start of this past season. Boucher’s camp made his results available to HoopsHype. He measured in at 6-foot-8 without shoes and 6-foot-9.5 with shoes. He has a standing reach of 9-foot-2.5, a wingspan of 7-foot-4, and his hands are 9.25 inches in length and 10.5 inches in width. The results of his athletic testing are in the table below.
As Boucher prepares to transition his game to the NBA, he’s studying specific players.
“I watch a lot of Kevin Garnett, Scottie Pippen, KD,” Boucher said. “I watch guys who can defend at a high level. High-energy players and capable of making an impact in all parts of the game.”
He’s also working hard in his rehab sessions, determined to come back stronger than ever. Lately, his rehab has focused on leg extensions, riding an exercise bike, running in a pool and single-leg balancing. The goal is obviously to work on his knee, but also increase the strength of his hips.
“It’s going really well,” Boucher said. “We’re about seven weeks in and I feel like I’m one step closer to running again and getting back onto the court.”
After everything Boucher has been through, this rehab is just one more obstacle for him to overcome before ultimately getting his shot in the NBA. As the draft approaches, he’s thrilled that he could possibly hear his name called.
“It would feel so good, especially knowing all of the work I’ve put in,” Boucher said. “There’d be some relief too, because it means that I’ll get to help my family more. That’s all I want to do. To be in a position where I’m able to do that and play basketball for a living, it’d be a great feeling.”
Boucher has one of the most unique stories of any player in this draft class. Five years ago, he was unhappy and unsure what his future held. Now, he’s discussing his NBA potential. He knows how fortunate he is to be in this position and how one decision changed his life forever.
“I would just tell people to never give up. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s ahead because there are so many obstacles, but keep going,” Boucher said. “And don’t turn down opportunities. When an opportunity shows up, you have to take it. When my friends asked me to come to that tournament, I could’ve said no. But I said yes and that paid off big time for me.
“When there’s an opportunity, take it.”