CU basketball assistant Kim English still haunted by Norfolk State

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado assistant coach Kim English and the Buffs take on Norfolk State on Monday.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado assistant coach Kim English was part of the No. 2 seed Missouri team that was upset by Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament seven years ago.

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First and foremost, Kim English wants to make one thing clear.

Monday’s matchup between fourth-seeded Colorado and eighth-seeded Norfolk State in the second round of the NIT is nothing more than an opportunity for the Buffaloes to keep their late-season surge alive a little deeper into March.

Still, English doesn’t need to hear the phrase “Norfolk State Spartans” to recall the heartache that ended his own collegiate playing career. That memory taunts English all the time.

“I think about that game every day,” English said.

The game in question occurred seven years ago last week when English, then a senior at Missouri, made the short trip to Omaha alongside his Tigers teammates. Fresh off the 2012 Big 12 Conference tournament championship, Missouri sported a 33-4 record as the No. 2 seed in the West Regional. The Tigers had just dismissed their three opponents in the league tournament by an average of nearly 16 points and featured a rotation that boasted two future NBA draft picks, English and Marcus Denmon, in addition to Phil Pressey, who went undrafted but nonetheless played 148 NBA games with four teams over three seasons.

Norfolk State? The Spartans had never even been to the NCAA Tournament before and entered the matchup as heavy underdogs. This was an easy choice on the bracket.

Naturally, March Madness ensued. Missouri’s season ended with an 86-84 Norfolk State win, as the Spartans became just the fifth No. 15 seed — and the first in 11 years — to win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (it has occurred three more times since). Current Spartans coach Robert Jones was an assistant at Norfolk State that season.

Unless you’re cutting down the nets at the end of the NCAA Tournament, seasons and careers ending with a stinging loss is the norm in college basketball. It was no different for English, though his last loss was one of historic proportions.

“Any team that beats you in your last college game, you remember. But that was in odd fashion,” said English, who struggled to a 1-for-7 mark that day. “I have a lot of respect for that program. I remember we really wanted a one-seed that year and we were disappointed with the two-seed. Any time you get to play in the postseason, especially the NCAA Tournament, it’s a good thing. We shouldn’t have been upset with the two seed. We should have been more excited to be there.

“It was a tough pill to swallow. It’s a really bad way to end a really good season.”

Conversely, the Buffs have turned what looked destined to be a disappointing season a few months ago into an encouraging one, winning 11 out of 14 games heading into Monday’s home battle against Norfolk State (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Buffs are two wins away from making travel plans for New York City for the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden, a destination the Buffs reached at the end of coach Tad Boyle’s first season at CU in 2011, but it still will require a win against Norfolk State in addition to a road win next week against either Xavier or Texas, which meet in the second round on Sunday (2 p.m. MT, ESPN).

“We really finished the season on a high note coming into the NIT, with young guys finishing with good momentum,” English said. “To finish a season like that, it’s a lot of positive momentum going into the postseason. There’s a lot of teams not playing right now and we still are. That’s a blessing, so embrace it and have fun.”

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07