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Hope for CU hoops 

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As soon as the University of Colorado discovered that Jeff Bzdelik would be departing as head men's basketball coach, the first thought must have been: What a great opportunity. Surely, CU athletic director Mike Bohn would be able to make a big-name hire, a new coach who could attract recruits from everywhere. And the timing couldn't be better, especially if Colorado does move to the conference now known as the Pac-10.

Anyway, amid all the fixation on the Denver Broncos' draft and the Colorado Rockies' turbulent first month, the outcome of CU's coach search slipped by without fanfare. So this week we need to play catch-up, because the Buffaloes' new head man definitely warrants the attention.

Most likely, unless you're from Greeley or happen to be a longtime follower of Colorado high school basketball, you haven't heard the name of Tad Boyle.

That's OK. Because Colorado's new head coach doesn't have to live in his past, as successful as it might have been.

Boyle grew up in Greeley, led Greeley Central to a state basketball championship in 1981, and earned high school All-American honors. He played college ball at Kansas under coach Larry Brown, but that didn't automatically catapult Boyle into coaching himself. Instead, he took his education into the financial world and was a highly successful stockbroker — ironically, living in Boulder — making big money in the early 1990s even before turning 30.

He could have stayed on that track, but Boyle decided to try coaching. He worked his way up as an assistant, then four years ago took what many saw as a career-killing challenge: to be head coach back in his hometown at the University of Northern Colorado. How bad was UNC? Arguably the worst in all of the NCAA's Division I, ranked at the very bottom of the national RPI index that rates nearly 350 teams.

This past season, Boyle guided Northern Colorado to a 25-8 record, second place in the reputable Big Sky Conference, and with a real shot at the NCAA Tournament until the Bears lost in their league tourney. Still, UNC could call itself the state champion, with victories against Air Force, Colorado State and the University of Denver. Boyle's team even had a private preseason scrimmage against Colorado, and various reports indicated UNC was the better team.

At the end of the 2009-10 season, UNC ranked 118th on that RPI index, just ahead of CSU and CU. That's a long climb from the bottom.

And when Bzdelik bolted for Wake Forest, Boyle applied. The other two finalists were Steve McClain, Bzdelik's top assistant and the choice of Colorado's players, and Mike Dunlap, who coached Metro State to a pair of NCAA Division II national titles and more recently was well-regarded as an assistant at Oregon.

Boyle and Bohn did share one trait, having both been athletes at Kansas. (Bohn played football.) But in the end, Boyle's love for Colorado got him the CU job.

He also has made a very smart move, retaining veteran assistant Tom Abatemarco, whom Bzdelik had hired just before leaving (and didn't ask to join the Wake Forest staff). Whether or not pity had anything to do with it, Boyle embraced Abatemarco, known nationally as a tireless and productive recruiter. That's already paying off with some late signees to give the Buffs depth, beginning with 6-foot-7 power forward Andre Roberson of San Antonio and 7-foot-1 center Ben Mills of Wisconsin. Mills had planned to go to Boise State but asked to be released after a coaching change there.

Boyle already has won another more important victory: He convinced Alec Burks, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season (17 points and five rebounds a game), to remain at Colorado. And a big part of that sales pitch was Boyle immediately telling Burks that CU would run opponents to death, taking full advantage of the altitude. Needless to say, that went over well.

With Burks, the other returnees and those recruits, Tad Boyle already has injected new energy into Colorado basketball, along with a brighter future.

And unlike his predecessor, Boyle isn't going anywhere.

routon@csindy.com

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