Howell: Senior Stalzer heads to finale on different note

  • Brian Howell /

    Colorado senior Eli Stalzer has played in just seven this year.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado senior Eli Stalzer has played in just seven this year.



During the offseason, Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle asked senior guard Eli Stalzer how much basketball really meant to him.

It was a fair question, considering Stalzer’s love for music and the fact that he’s put music ahead of basketball throughout his career.

“I wasn’t sure how important basketball was to Eli,” Boyle said.

Stalzer made it clear, however, that while music has been his top priority, he has cherished every moment as a Buffalo and wanted to finish out his career with the team.

On Sunday, CU will host Arizona State in the home finale. The Buffs and their fans will honor one of the program’s all-time greats, as Josh Scott plays his final game at Coors Events Center. It’ll also be a big day for senior guard Xavier Talton, who, like Scott, grew up in Colorado and wound up being a big part of the Buffs’ rotation.

For Stalzer, it’s a very different ending, and he doesn’t even know if he’ll get on the court.

“If I go in, that’ll be great and I’ll have a good time,” said Stalzer, who has played just 16 minutes all season. “It’ll be fun playing in front of the (home) crowd one last time.”

At Mater Dei (Calif.) High School, Stalzer was a teammate of Xavier Johnson, and the both earned scholarships to CU in 2012. While Johnson, and many other Buffs, have always had an eye on a pro basketball career, Stalzer came to CU with an eye on music.

An exceptional piano player, he was accepted to CU’s College of Music in October of 2012, just as his freshman season began, and he will graduate this year with his music degree.

“There’s not too many guys that have come through Colorado basketball and gotten their degree in music,” Boyle said.

To earn it, Stalzer has had to sacrifice basketball. He often has to leave practice early or skip a practice all together because of his music classes.

“There were days where I found out we had a bad practice or we didn’t compete as much, and you always ask yourself, ‘If I was there would I have made a difference? Could it have been better?'” Stalzer said. “But, you have to keep moving.”

Commitment to music has also prevented Stalzer from spending as much extra time in the gym as he’d like.

“It’s a tough balance and it’s been a struggle all four years,” he said. “I never could have foreseen the difficulty of balancing the two.”

Without as much time to work on his game, it’s not a surprise that he has seen his playing time reduce each season. He played in 71 games the first three years, but has played in just seven this year, and hasn’t scored a point.

CU would love to get more out of a scholarship player, but Boyle said Stalzer’s good attitude and high character have been assets to the Buffs when he is around.

“He’s had a great attitude at practice this year, and that’s not easy,” Boyle said. “Every player comes here with the idea and hopes and dreams of playing a lot. For him, it didn’t work out that way. But it doesn’t mean he hasn’t helped our program. It doesn’t mean I’m not proud of him.”

Stalzer’s teammates are proud of him, too. Many of them have marveled at his skills on the piano, and junior Wesley Gordon said, “He’s one of the best teammates we’ve had.”

Stalzer said he may always wonder how his career would have been different had he been able to devote more time to basketball, but he also said he has no regrets about coming to CU.

“This is a great place,” he said.

Whether he gets to play Sunday or not, Stalzer said he’ll always look back at his career at CU with pride. He’s been a part of two NCAA Tournament teams — and possibly a third this season — and he’s had a chance to play in every arena around the Pac-12.

“Whether you’re the guy scoring all the points or you’re the guy just cheering, being a part of something special, you can always take that with you the rest of your life,” he said.

Sunday may not be as emotional for Stalzer as it will be for Scott, or even Talton, but he smiled and said, “I have a feeling once I get there and that moment comes, I’m going to feel something.”

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.