A 6-foot-10 guy in the gym of a Division I basketball program usually is just another face in the crowd.
Transplant that 6-10 guy 20 or so years down the road, and the routine of everyday life usually is punctuated with one inevitable question: Did you play basketball?
When former Buffaloes player Charlie Melvin answers that yes, indeed, he played hoops for Colorado, he admits he often is met with polite but semi-blank stares. When he mentions he played with a guy named Chauncey Billups, however, those polite stares turn into gasps of awe.
Melvin and a number of his former teammates were on hand Saturday morning to attend the Buffaloes' practice as part of the program's annual alumni weekend, which this year is honoring players and coaches from the Ricardo Patton era. Billups was not at practice, but he and the rest of the alums are scheduled to attend Sunday night's game against Arizona at the CU Events Center.
"No one ever remembers Colorado basketball outside of Colorado," said Melvin, who owns his own construction business in Los Angeles. "But you mention Chauncey Billups and it's 'Oh, you played with Chauncey Billups!' Even (my wife), she's not a big basketball fan but she'd heard of Chauncey Billups."
Before coach Tad Boyle led the Buffs to four NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons between 2012 and 2016, it was Patton who led the CU to its only two previous tourney berths since 1969, with the Billups-led crew going in 1997 and Patton again leading the Buffs to the Big Dance in 2003.
A number of Billups' teammates from the 1997 tourney team were on hand Saturday, including Melvin, Ronnie DeGray, Fred Edmonds, Greg Jensen, and Josh Townsend. Edmonds was two years older than Billups but also played with the CU legend at George Washington High School. When Edmonds arrived at CU, Patton was an assistant under Joe Harrington and Buffs eventually finished 2-12 in the Big Eight. When Edmonds was a senior, which coincided with Billups' second and final season in Boulder, CU knocked off Indiana in a memorable NCAA Tournament first-round victory.
That win, along with the Buffs' first-round win against UNLV in 2012, remain the program's only NCAA tourney opening-round wins since 1963.
"Seeing us in the cellar of the Big Eight to being in the top two of the Big 12 and then being the first team since '63 (to win) at the NCAA Tournament," Edmonds said. "It was a little bit different just because the fans had been through so much. You go from just a sprinkle, a few fans in the stands, to it being packed and sold out. To be part of that organic side of it, it was huge for me."
The 1997 team will forever be memorable because of Billups and the win against Indiana, but Patton is equally proud of the fact he got the Buffs back to the tournament six years later with an entirely different cast. A few of those players, including Blair Wilson, Trennis Jones, and Matt Greenwald, are on the guest list this weekend.
It will be the second time in about 15 months Patton has returned to the CU Events Center. As an assistant under Rodney Billups at Denver, Patton and the Pioneers visited the Buffs early in the 2017-18 season.
"I always felt like we gave it our best and we had some good moments," Patton said. "To see these guys come back and hear about what they're doing, and having families now, I'm really proud of all the lessons we tried to teach these young men. And they carried it on and are doing well."