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When the CU men’s basketball team hits the road this week, there’s a little more on the line than just regional rivalries.
It’s a major step in building an atmosphere and a team mentality under first-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik.
“These games will be a great learning experience for our players because what needs to change here, what we need to do here, is build an environment conducive to winning,” Bzdelik said. “I told our team the other day that there are perhaps 30 to 35 teams in this country that have elite talent, and the next 200 teams – very little separates those teams.
“Just like in the next couple of games – Tuesday and Thursday we’re playing teams that, to be honest with you, we’re on equal footing with them.”
The Buffaloes (3-2) travel to Magness Arena in Denver to take on the Denver Pioneers (2-2) this Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain.
Two days later, Colorado travels to Clune Arena in Colorado Springs to play Bzdelik’s former squad at Air Force (5-2). The 7 p.m. game will be broadcast on The Mtn. Network.
Last year, the Falcons came to the Coors Events Center and blew out the Buffs, 84-46.
The return of the home-and-home series will be Bzdelik’s first time back in his old stomping grounds. This time, however, he’ll be pacing the sideline on the other side of the court.
“It was an honor and a privilege to have coached at Air Force, and it was an extremely difficult decision to leave,” he said. “My decision to leave was a lot more complicated than what people know, but I’m extremely excited about the opportunity here, and it’s an honor and a privilege to coach here at CU.”
The prospect of repeating what he helped accomplish at Air Force – creating a frenzied atmosphere around basketball at a school not known for its basketball – is a reason why the coach came to CU.
“There were many reasons I was able to choose the University of Colorado, and one of them is that, as a coach, you really enjoy challenges,” he said. “To me, creating the environment that we’re looking for here at CU is a challenge.
“At Air Force it’s already in place. It’s already there. The cadets live it every day.”
The Buffs will go into the two-game road series in the midst of an already up-and-down season. After five games, Colorado is shooting 50 percent from the field, the second-best shooting percentage in the last 12 years, but the Buffs have fallen twice.
Colorado lost to New Mexico in the season opener, 54-47, and to Wisconsin in the America’s Youth Classic, 78-52.
Through the course of the season, the team has shown streaks of greatness, Bzdelik said. But it hasn’t been able to do it consistently.
“It can’t just be for five minutes,” he said. “It has to be for 40, because we’re not good enough talent-wise to not play any other way. To me, that’s the big thing about the challenge for this year.”
That’s where it comes down to the team mentality.
“To be quite honest, if our players don’t find that mental toughness to approach the game with that indomitable will, that inner strength, that willingness to sacrifice for a greater cause, that unselfishness – if we don’t find that, we are at a huge, huge disadvantage,” Bzdelik said.
“Because they (Air Force) already have it, and that’s what I want our guys to find. The sooner we find that, the better, and hopefully we’ll find it soon, because we don’t have it right now. We don’t. That’s the honest to goodness truth.”
The CU men’s basketball team will not return to Boulder while it travels to Denver and Colorado Springs. It will miss classes from Tuesday until Friday.
Missing almost a whole week in the crunch time of the semester can be killer, but the Buffs will be traveling with tutors, who will hold study sessions every day of the road stretch.
The reason for not returning to campus was logistics, Bzdelik said.
“By the time you get back from the game Tuesday, you wake up Wednesday for class and then you drive down to the Springs and the only time you can practice on Clune Court is at certain time, and it’s back-and-forth, back-and-forth,” he said. “Again, this is a schedule that I inherited, and I just have to deal with it. Next fall, our schedule is just about complete and we will not miss one day of school all semester.”
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Justin Coons at firstname.lastname@example.org.