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Woelk: As Boyle Enters Second Decade At CU, He Eyes Next Level For Buffs

Nov 21, 2020
Tad Boyle has seven 20-win seasons at Colorado,  the most of any coach in program history.

BOULDER — Tad Boyle has always been a student of history.

It is why, when he was hired as the Colorado Buffaloes' 18th men's basketball coach in 2010, he exhibited some restraint when he began exploring the real estate market in Boulder.

"I remember driving around with my wife and a realtor when we were looking for houses," Boyle recently said with a chuckle. "I told her, 'Now we have to be careful here. I may not have this job for more than 2 or 3 or 4 years. Let's lower the bar, so to speak.'"

Boyle was simply being pragmatic. He knew that coaching men's basketball at Colorado was neither an easy or forgiving task. He knew that of the previous 17 coaches in CU history, only four had lasted at least 10 years, and only one of the six before him had lasted longer than six seasons.

But instead of repeating history, Boyle has rewritten it. Now entering his 11th season at Colorado — fourth on the all-time longevity list at CU and well within striking range of Nos. 2 and 3 — he has produced arguably the most successful decade in program history.

The numbers tell the story:

— Nine winning seasons in 10 years.

— Second on CU's all-time victory list with 210, trailing only Sox Walseth's 261.

— Second-best winning percentage in program history (minimum four seasons) at .610, trailing only Forrest Cox's .623.

— Seven of Colorado's 11 total 20-win seasons.

— All four of CU's top win seasons (24 twice, 23 twice).

— First head coach in CU history to take the Buffs to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, as well as the first to take Colorado to seven consecutive postseason appearances.

— Only CU coach to win 20 games in his first four years, and the only CU coach to own seven 20-win seasons.

— A .564 postseason winning percentage, best in school history.

— Four conference tournament semifinal appearances and one conference tournament title.

— 15 of CU's all-time 26 conference tournament victories.

— Six NBA Draft picks, including three first rounders.

Those numbers are just the highlights, but they are clearly a testament to the job Boyle has performed in just his second collegiate head coaching stop. Along the way, he has also increased attendance, captured the attention of CU's student body, and put the Buffs into the national conversation on a consistent basis.

But the best part? While understandably proud of what he has accomplished at a school that struggled more often than not in men's hoops, Boyle is far from satisfied.

Rather, he looks at the standard he has established and is determined to raise the bar, beginning Wednesday when the Buffs open their season in Manhattan, Kan., with a 6 p.m. game against South Dakota in the Little Apple Classic.

"There are obviously some things we are really, really proud of," Boyle said. "But I feel like there's so much unfinished business … I feel like there's still so much room for improvement."

At the top of Boyle's priority list is the same thing that occupies the mind of college coaches across the country — the NCAA Tournament.

Boyle has taken his squads to four NCAA tourneys, a number that would have increased to five last spring if the coronavirus pandemic had not abruptly ended all college sports. 

That alone is a number of which to be proud. Prior to his arrival, the Buffs had visited the NCAA Tournament just twice in the previous 40 years. At a school where NCAA berths were once a reason for celebration, they have now become the standard expectation. 

But those four NCAA berths have produced just one tournament win, a victory over UNLV in 2011. Since then, the Buffs have not been able to advance past the opening game.

That is something Boyle believes his program is ready to correct.

"Not just getting to the NCAA Tournament, but advancing once we get there," he said. "That's really the next step for this program and that's something I'm focused on. I'd like that to start this year."

Boyle believes he has the roster to do just that. Led by senior All-Pac-12 point guard McKinley Wright, Colorado has a solid core of returning vets that have been through the Pac-12 battles. Along with Wright, other key returnees include senior wing D'Shawn Schwartz, senior center Dallas Walton, junior forward Evan Battey, junior guard Eli Parquet and senior wing Maddox Daniels.

"This is an NCAA Tournament team without a doubt," Boyle said. "I think McKinley Wright is one of the top point guards in all of college basketball and one of the best players in all of college basketball. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I said that when he was a freshman and I sure as heck am going to say it again when he's a senior. He's a special player."

Schwartz has been a steady contributor for the last three years who could be ready to take his game to the next level. Walton, now fully healthy, should provide a big boost as a rim protector; Battey could become a top rebounder and defender inside; and Parquet will add depth to the backcourt, especially as a defensive stopper.

Another returnee still below the radar of everyone who doesn't follow the Buffs closely is redshirt freshman guard Keeshawn Barthelemy. A highly sought recruit out of Montreal last year, Barthelemy is expected to step into the starting lineup alongside Wright and give the Buffs one of the most potent one-two backcourt punches in the Pac-12.

"Keeshawn's going to be critical for us this year," Boyle said. "Number one, it's going to allow McKinley to move off the ball a little bit, which will allow him to be more of a scorer and play off the ball. I think those guys in the backcourt will be able to play off each other very, very well."

But Boyle's confidence in his current squad stretches beyond the returning veterans, as Colorado welcomed one of Boyle's best recruiting classes in his tenure this season.

The group includes 6-8 forwards Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva, 6-7 shooting guard Luke O'Brien, and 6-5 guard Nique Clifford. Several or all of them could end up adding significant contributions this year, especially in the wake of NCAA legislation that is providing a "free" year of eligibility for all winter sports athletes.

It is a class that Boyle believes will not only contribute this year, but provide a cornerstone for the future.

"The foundation of this program is moving forward," he said. "When I look at that freshman class every day on the floor, then I see the guys that are coming in next year, the foundation is set for the foreseeable future for a lot more tournaments and deep runs in tournaments."