DES MOINES, Iowa — The fact it is the Colorado Buffaloes’ fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons notwithstanding, stepping upon college basketball’s biggest stage is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of moment for every student-athlete.
As the Buffs exited the Wells Fargo Arena floor Wednesday afternoon after their open practice, Dom Collier and Josh Scott paused to sign autographs. Scott additionally made sure to high-five the outstretched hand of a toddler-sized fan decked out in Buffs garb.
It is a stage meant to be enjoyed. Yet this also is a business trip, a fine line CU head coach Tad Boyle has learned to balance as he prepares his team for Thursday’s first-round game against UConn.
“It’s a little bit of a fine balance there,” Boyle said. “After you’ve been here a few times … I want them to enjoy it and have fun. I think they’re mature enough to understand when it’s time for business, it’s time for business. But off the floor — on the bus, in the hotel, at meals — I want them to be loose. I want them to have fun. And I want them to enjoy the moment.
“Don’t play tight. Don’t be tight. Just have fun. That’s what this game’s all about. That’s what this tournament is all about.”
Most of the Buffs’ upperclassmen have been here before during previous NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014, both of which ended with first-round losses. The novelty of the experience isn’t a factor for the Buffs’ veterans, and the setting in Des Moines offers neither the lure of the nightlife of CU’s 2013 tournament locale (Austin, Texas) nor the tourist attractions of 2014 (Orlando).
Clearly, as Scott and Collier showed in their interactions with fans on Wednesday, the Buffs are having fun. Yet the reality that it’s a business trip first and foremost remains a prevalent talking point in CU’s locker room.
“When it’s time to enjoy the moment, it’s time to enjoy the moment. And when it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” said junior Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who recorded two points and three rebounds in 12 minutes in a lopsided loss against Pitt in his NCAA Tournament debut in 2014. “That’s how I’m looking it. We’ve just got to come out here and play hard, because I don’t want to have something happen like what happened two years ago.”