Evan Battey has been there. Not too long ago, too. And thinking about what teammate Dallas Walton is going through right now was enough to stir up some powerful emotions.
When the Colorado men's basketball team opens the season Nov. 13 at home against Drake, Battey finally will have a chance to showcase skills that have been idling on the sideline for the past two seasons due to an inconceivable run of bureaucratic and health issues.
One player who won't be there, or at least in uniform, is Dallas Walton, the 7-foot redshirt sophomore who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Asked to describe what adjustments a frontcourt high on promise prior to the Walton's injury, Battey was at once pragmatic and passionate.
"There's really no way we can cover the slack for a 7-2 wingspan guy. We have to get that much better at defense because we don't have that shot-blocker back there to correct our mistakes," Battey said, fighting tears. "It's tough. I texted him...I know the feeling of sitting out almost three years. I wasn't allowed to play, but he literally can't play. He just has to help his team on the bench like I did last year.
"I just feel so bad for him. He was going to be a key of our defense. "
There are two ways to dissect the loss of Walton. On one hand, Walton was one of several CU players expected to build on the encouraging flashes shown last season. On the other hand, the Buffs only have to cover the 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds Walton averaged last year, though his ability to alter shots at the rim is a trait the Buffs' defense will be challenged to replicate.
Regardless, the frontcourt rotation immediately takes on a new look without Walton, who started the final 20 games last season. Battey and 6-foot-10 junior Lucas Siewert likely will spend more time together on the floor, while the decision of how freshman Jakub Dombek will spend his freshman season takes on a new twist. Head coach Tad Boyle has stated repeatedly that the 6-foot-11 forward from the Czech Republic needs to get stronger to compete in the Pac-12 (Dombek is listed at 190 pounds), and taking a redshirt season would echo the route taken by Walton when he arrived at CU from Arvada West High School.
Small forward Tyler Bey also figures to be a critical part of the frontcourt rotation and production, but the loss of Walton robs Boyle of the ability to tinker with different personnel combinations.
"I actually haven't thought about it because we have a lot of big guys. I need to get better and I need to get into shape," Dombek said. "I will see what coach is going to tell me. I'll talk with him, and then we'll see. I feel better. I'm getting back in shape. But the play is different than in Europe, so I need to get ready for the style of the play. It's much quicker here. But I feel I'm getting used to everything."