Woelk: Buffs' Battey Embodies All That Is Good About College Athletics
BOULDER — It would be tempting to say that Colorado senior Evan Battey stole the hearts of Buffaloes fans.
But that would imply Battey somehow tiptoed in and took something that did not belong to him.
Nothing could be further from the truth (beginning with the use of "Battey" and "tiptoed" in the same sentence).
From the day he first took the court in Boulder — after an NCAA-mandated redshirt season and after a life-threatening stroke — Colorado fans freely gave their hearts to Battey.
In return, the big bear of a man has given CU fans an endless supply of energy, passion and enthusiasm, paired with a mile-wide smile and a love of the Buffaloes that has earned him the affection of anyone and everyone who has any connection to Colorado basketball.
It has been a mutual love affair rivaled by only a very few in CU annals.
Last weekend, after a stunning Colorado victory over No. 2 Arizona at the CU Events Center, Battey gave CU fans a gift they will always cherish. As the Buffaloes and fans celebrated after the game, Battey hopped onto the scorer's table and delivered a heartfelt, passionate "thank you" to everyone who supported him, helped him and cheered him on during his five years in Boulder.
A capacity crowd responded in kind.
Battey's career has been a testament to all that is good about college athletics. A young man who overcame crushing obstacles became the heart and soul of a program while earning a degree and the unconditional love of a fan base that appreciated everything he had to offer.
Battey's numbers are solid. When he finally plays his last game as a Buff, he will be in the program's all-time top 25 in scoring, rebounding, games played and minutes played. He will also leave CU having played in more Colorado victories — 86 and counting — than any other player in Buffs history.
But his impact has been far more than statistics. In a season when he has ended up as the only scholarship senior still playing, Battey has set a standard for CU's youngsters. They have seen first-hand what it means to play every night with unbridled joy and practice every day with a focused passion.
They have also seen what it means to truly embrace a program, a school and a community by giving everything possible.
Emphasis on giving.
Battey hasn't "taken" anything in Boulder. Rather, he has given all he has, embodying the spirit of what college athletics can still be. He has used his opportunity to earn a degree, earn a place in the community and create a legacy that will pay dividends to the program for years to come.
In return, CU fans have given him their support, their love and their admiration.
That's a heck of a trade — and just the latest example of the program Colorado coach Tad Boyle has painstakingly created in 12 years in Boulder.
It is no accident that Battey and his fellow seniors from this season — Elijah Parquet, Benan Ersek and Will Loughlin — landed in Boulder. Neither is it a coincidence that once again every senior in Boyle's program will earn a degree, be a solid citizen and be a part of a winning program.
That is the foundation Boyle and his staff have created. Players come to Boulder, get an education, play winning basketball and give fans a reason to appreciate them as student-athletes.
What they have created is a program that is annually on solid footing in all respects and — somewhat ironically — is often viewed nationally through a more-positive lens than locally.
This season has been a great example. With just two seniors and a host of underclassmen and newcomers, this year was seen by most — at least on the outside — as a rebuilding season for the Buffs.
But despite some unforeseen obstacles, Boyle's team has come oh-so-close to being an NCAA Tournament team. They have signature wins at Oregon and at home over Arizona.
Still, a difficult midseason conference stretch — narrow losses to USC and UCLA, plus disappointing efforts at the Washington schools — has left them playing catch-up with precious little time remaining.
Boyle won't make excuses — but fact is, the young Buffs were hit hard by the injury bug. Ultra-talented true freshman Quincy Allen has yet to see the court because of a preseason injury. Freshman big man Lawson Lovering, who was just beginning to get a feel for the college game, suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the season.
And, perhaps most damaging, defensive player of the year candidate Elijah Parquet — expected to share some of the leadership duties with Battey — had to shut his season down in January because of a foot injury.
With those players in uniform, Colorado ostensibly would have picked up another couple of wins in conference play — and would be squarely in the NCAA conversation.
But now, as CU heads into its regular season finale Saturday at Utah before next week's Pac-12 tournament, the Buffs will need a serious tourney run to even squeeze their name into the discussion.
All of which brings us back to Battey.
In a season in which some bad luck punked the Buffs at the worst possible moments, Battey gave Colorado fans a reason to cheer. A young man who embraced CU, embraced the program and delivered passion every time he stepped on the floor gave Buffs fans a reason to celebrate.
Forget — at least for a moment — the transfer portal. Forget the "me-first" attitude that seems to be squeezing the joy out of the game.
Battey reminded us of all that is good about college athletics. He joined a program that promised him an opportunity to succeed, and in return he has given everything he could possibly give.
What a wonderful deal for all involved.
So, in light of Evan Battey's passionate "thank you" to last weekend's capacity crowd on Senior Night, we offer this on behalf of Buffs fans everywhere:
You have given us all one helluva ride.