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Considering the Colorado men’s basketball team has won just one NCAA Tournament game in his eight-plus seasons at the helm, head coach Tad Boyle nonetheless has an impressive talking point to lay on the table every time he meets a recruit.
For a program that generally stays under the national radar, and that hasn’t been ranked in the AP top 25 since mid-January 2014, the alums of Boyle’s program are faring well at the next level.
With former guard Spencer Dinwiddie agreeing to an extension last week with the Brooklyn Nets worth a reported $34 million over three years, it’s arguable former Buffs, collectively, have never enjoyed a bigger NBA spotlight than right now. Alec Burks is settling in after getting traded to Cleveland. Derrick White is taking over a starting role in San Antonio. And even George King, the next-to-last pick in last summer’s NBA draft, enjoyed a stellar start this fall in the G-League before making his NBA debut on Dec. 11.
It might not always be as a lottery pick, but Boyle nonetheless can look any recruit in the eyes and say that if they trust the process at Colorado, those NBA dreams can very well come true.
“That’s something we talk about with every recruit we speak to,” Boyle said. “We want to recruit guys that are in that mold — in Spencer’s mold, in Derrick’s mode, in Andre’s (Roberson’s) mold, in George’s mold. One thing all those guys have in common, and obviously they are very talented physically, but they worked hard while they were here to get better. That’s what we want our current players to do, that’s what we want our futures to do.
“Work ethic is one of the criteria that we use when we recruit. If a kid has got good work ethic, he moves up on our list. If he doesn’t have good work ethic, he gets nixed off our list. Sometimes you can get fooled. But those guys, I’m proud of all of them. And Cory Higgins is doing great things in Russia.”
The journeys of Dinwiddie, White and King have featured similar arcs in that none of those players took the easy path to NBA rosters.
Dinwiddie entered the 2014 NBA draft as a junior despite a midseason torn ACL that dimmed the Buffs prospects when they reached their third consecutive NCAA Tournament later that year. Dinwiddie was selected in the second round by Detroit and played 46 games over two seasons with the Pistons. Dinwiddie was signed by Chicago in the summer of 2016 but never played for the Bulls, instead logging nine games with the Windy City Bulls of the G-League.
Just two years after getting released by Chicago, Dinwiddie is coming off a third-place finish in the 2018 NBA Most Improved Player Award voting and will be a leading candidate for this season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. There’s also that $34 million.
White was an unheralded recruit ignored at the Division I level out of Legend High School in Parker before enjoying a dramatic growth spurt during a Division II All-American career at UCCS. He transferred to CU for his senior season before going 29th overall to San Antonio in the 2017 draft. After missing time early due to a heel injury, White was averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 assists in 22 games (10 starts) going into Wednesday night’s game against Orlando.
Through his first 12 games with the Northern Arizona Suns of the G-League, King shot .468 overall and .435 on 3-pointers (27-for-62) while averaging 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. King’s hot start also included an .864 mark (19-for-22) at the free throw line. King didn’t attempt a shot but did record his first career rebound in his Phoenix Suns debut.
“One of the reasons I coach is to have a positive influence and effect on young men’s lives,” Boyle said. “But the other thing is to help and be a small part of kids reaching their dreams. A lot of these kids have the same dream. They’re not all going to realize that dream, but when they do it’s pretty special.”