Woelk: A Thank You To Buffs Seniors
BOULDER — Late Saturday night, in front of a small group of family and friends at the CU Events Center, McKinley Wright IV and his fellow Buffs seniors delivered their Senior Night farewells.
Each was heartfelt and poignant.
The Buffs thanked their families, their coaches, team personnel and — of course — their teammates. They thanked fans, administrators and CU Athletic Department staffers, those folks behind the scenes who have helped the players achieve their goals, not only on the basketball court but in the classroom as well.
It is clear each and every Buff has cherished his time in Boulder.
The feeling is mutual. On behalf of Colorado fans, we would like to return those "thank yous."
Thanks to each and every member of this senior class. Thanks for providing a memorable season in a time when every one of us desperately needed something good to cheer. Thanks for representing the University of Colorado, the community and the state in a manner that can make everyone who follows the program proud to support CU.
Most of all, thanks for leaving a legacy and continuing to build a foundation that will be firmly in place long after your last game, last practice, last basket, last dribble at the Events Center.
You received the opportunity to play the game you love and further your education in the process, something that will be with you forever.
In return, you gave us memories that will last us a lifetime as well.
Of course, the spotlight on this group has always shown most brightly on Wright — and for good reason. He has embodied everything that is good about college athletics. A great player who always puts his team first. A player who makes everyone around him better, a player whose passion and competitiveness is in high gear every night, a player who cares more about winning than individual numbers — and a player who will take with him a college degree by the time he leaves CU.
(Note: All seven of CU's seniors will earn or have already earned their degrees, keeping intact one of coach Tad Boyle's most amazing streaks. Every player in his tenure who has completed his eligibility at Colorado has graduated.)
Clearly, Wright's legacy is indelibly stamped on the program. He guided the team for four seasons, helping CU continue the transformation of becoming a nationally relevant program.
But every senior on the team has played an integral part in taking Colorado basketball to a level that has not been seen in decades. Every senior deserves credit for helping build that reputation.
The Buffs are now expected to win. They are expected to be a factor in the conference race, expected to be competitive every season, expected to be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth.
These are expectations that did not exist in Boulder for generations.
But it is more than winning. The Buffaloes are also viewed as a program that does it the "right way." There has never been a sniff of impropriety around Boyle's program, never a hint of scandal or misconduct.
Rather, it is a program other coaches respect and other administrators admire.
Boyle does not merely recruit players. He recruits people, young men of good character who will represent the uniform and the program with pride — and who can also play the game.
As Wright told the media after the game, Boyle is always there to remind his student-athletes that life continues long after the ball stops bouncing.
Part of Wright's speech Saturday night perfectly reflected the program and culture Boyle has built. It should be included in every CU recruiting pitch from this day forward.
"My coaches ... throughout my whole recruitment … none of the other coaches that recruited me cared about my life," Wright said, his voice cracking with emotion. "They just cared about what I brought to the basketball court. Every single coach on this staff knows what I've been through and has been there for me. Thank you. Thank you."
What this year's CU senior class has proven is that Boyle has built a sustainable model in Boulder. You can do things the right way. You can recruit solid young men, give them the opportunity to succeed and still win.
In short, you can build a program that represents the ideals of the student-athlete concept and be competitive.
This is the legacy this year's seven seniors will leave with the program, another cornerstone in the foundation of a program that is under-appreciated by some — but never underestimated by its opponents.
That is a credit to Boyle. Hired to build a program at a place that never sniffed the credentials of a "basketball school," he has slowly but steadily changed that perception.
Colorado is a place where good players can come to earn a degree and play on a team that will regularly be in the mix for a championship and compete for postseason berths.
This year's team, by the way, is not a "one-shot" wonder. While Wright and his fellow seniors will be sorely missed, the future is bright because the foundation has been carefully set in place. There are a host of youngsters on this team, plus a handful of returning vets, who will make next year's Buffaloes competitive.
It is, quite simply, a program that has been carefully built at a place where there was literally no blueprint for long-term success.
Now, that blueprint has been implemented and the future is bright.
That is the endowment of this year's senior class to future Buffaloes. Every one of them helped build that foundation, helped their head coach put down the blocks on which future success will be molded.
So, thank you McKinley Wright IV. Thank you D'Shawn Schwartz, Dallas Walton, Alexander Strating, Maddox Daniels, Aidan McQuade and Jeriah Horne.
You took your opportunity at Colorado and made the very most of it.
Years from now, you will still remember this season and how you overcame the obstacles of a pandemic, how you produced big wins and the lifelong friendships you forged.
But take it from someone who has the luxury of looking through a longer lens of years — you will also remember and cherish what you built for future Buffs. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in that regard will be strong.
Meanwhile, always remember that you gave us something in return, memories we also will fondly hold. While we could not be there to deliver the full-house standing ovation in person that you all deserve, know this much — it was there in spirit.