When they were teammates at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Xavier Johnson learned to appreciate Eli Stalzer as a basketball player.

He also gained a great deal of respect for Stalzer's talent off the court.

"I think he just plays basketball for fun, because he'll make pretty good money professionally playing the piano," Johnson said.

Now a sophomore at Colorado -- and still Johnson's teammate -- Stalzer is excelling in music while continuing to be a valuable member of the No. 21 Buffaloes (10-2).

A role player off the bench, Stalzer is majoring in music and was accepted in CU's College of Music in 2012.

"I've been playing the piano for coming up on 13 years now, and CU's music program is just outstanding," Stalzer said. "When coach (Tad) Boyle offered me (a scholarship), I looked at the programs that they had, I decided what I wanted to do and I thought it was a no-brainer (to go to CU).

"I love music and just wanted to learn more about it, really."

Along the way, he's been able to continue playing the sport he loves.

Stalzer played point guard at Mater Dei, scoring 5.8 pointsand dishing 2.3 assists per game as a senior.

As a true freshman last year, Stalzer gave the Buffs 9.1 minutes per game off the bench. This season, he has played in just six games, averaging 4.3 minutes in those games. His academic schedule has contributed to that drop, as he had to skip several practices during the fall semester to go to music classes.

"I've had to bite the bullet and skip practice and go to classes," he said. "Thankfully, this next semester I won't have to miss any practice.

"Now I'm barely seeing the court and it's tough, but I'm glad (the semester) is over now. Hopefully things will start getting better."

Stalzer believes his intelligence is an asset of his on the court. And, he hopes that being in better shape during the second half of the season will team with his smarts to help the Buffs a little more.

"I know that aspect of my basketball game will allow us to be more collaborative, more efficient and get it done," he said.

While he hasn't been able to devote as much time to basketball as he'd like, Stalzer is enjoying his progression in music.

He began playing the piano at 8 years old, when his mother encouraged him and his siblings to play an instrument.

Stalzer was never forced to play. Instead, "It was always, 'I feel like playing,' and two hours go by and I don't even realize it," he said.

"I always felt it was one of those things that, the type of emotion that you're feeling that's kind of hard to express in words, I felt like I could always do it through the piano. That was one thing I always loved about it. No matter how I was feeling or whatever mood I was in, I could always sit down and play how I was feeling."

Music and basketball are emotional activities. Stalzer has learned that on the court, he needs to be in control of his emotions. At the piano, however, he can let loose.

"I have to let my emotions out," he said. "I have to know what part of the song I'm on. If it's a loud part, I need to be aggressive; if it's quiet, I need to feel it and be able to really take my emotions and put it into the music so that the song sounds how it's supposed to be."

While there are differences between the two, of course, Stalzer said he has learned some similarities between the two activities, as well.

"One of the biggest thing is, with basketball, you've got the game and to get better you have to break it down into small pieces -- ball handling, shooting, everything," he said. "Music is the same way. Learning a new piece, you don't just sit down and try to play a whole piece. You've got to break it down measure by measure, and sometimes note by note, until eventually you put the beats together until you have a masterpiece."

Stalzer is still working on his masterpiece. For now, he's enjoying the balance in his life and thankful he can enjoy both activities he loves so much.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.