Evan Battey is smiling frequently these days.
And that’s saying something. Because even when his immediate outlook was bleak, and even when that smile was marred by the effects of a potentially career-ending medical issue two years ago, Battey still always seemed to smile often.
Part of Battey’s joy is about what the Colorado men’s basketball is hoping to accomplish this season. Earlier this week, the Buffaloes were picked second in the Pac-12 Conference’s annual preseason media poll, adding tangible credence to CU’s goals of competing for a league title and reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Yet much of Battey’s joy also springs from within. On the heels of two adversity-filled years on a personal front, Battey was one of several CU players who came on strong during a late surge that saw the Buffs reach the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament and the quarterfinals of the NIT. It was a turning of the corner the 6-foot-8 forward expects to continue this season.
“I come to practice every day with a smile on my face. Last year I was thankful, but last year my attitude wasn’t as good as it is this year. Everything we do, I have a smile on my face and I’m looking forward to it. You have to do it anyway, so you might as well have fun doing it.”
Battey’s personal travails have been well-documented.
After being forced to sit out his senior season in high school, the same tenuous eligibility issue forced Battey to take a redshirt season during his first year at CU. In hindsight, the NCAA ruling proved to be a colossal blessing in disguise, as a stroke Battey suffered in late December 2017 left him dealing with partial facial paralysis while fretting his basketball future. Had Battey been part of the active roster at that point, he would have burned a year of eligibility.
Instead, a fully recovered Battey returned to the floor last season as a redshirt freshman for the Buffs, though he perhaps predictably suffered through a slow start after not playing competitively the previous two seasons.
Eventually, though, Battey rounded into form, and he ultimately started the final 10 games of the season. After posting double-figure points in just four times in the season’s first 19 games, all of them occurring in nonconference play, Battey reached that mark seven times over the final 17 games. He finished the year averaging 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds with a .484 field goal percentage. A skilled passer, Battey was the rare post player to finish with more assists (44) than turnovers (38).
Improving that rebounding total is likely to be the area where Battey can help the Buffs the most as a third-year sophomore in 2019-20. Head coach Tad Boyle has noted this past offseason was the first out of three Battey has spent at CU in which he could go through the full weight room and conditioning routine over the spring and summer. The expectation is that work will pay off on the glass.
“Evan is, and I said it last year probably down the stretch, but he’s the guy we recruited,” Boyle said. “It took obviously a while to see that given his setbacks, but he has picked up where he left off. He’s back to his old self in terms of his emotional leadership and his energy and his voice and all that stuff that makes Evan, Evan. He’s a special player and we all know he’s a special young man.
“Rebounding is something we preach to all our players. That’s one area where I want our players to be selfish. I want them to be selfish rebounders, both offensively and defensively. Especially our big guys. Now, some of our guards, their responsibility is to sprint back to half court and help stop the fast break. But I’m not expecting Evan to do that. Or Tyler or Dallas or any of our bigs. Those guys need to be thirsty, selfish rebounders.”