Game day notes: Despite a number of CU basketball legends from Chicago, Windy City recruiting pipeline now dry

Buffs savor chance to play on NBA floor against Dayton

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
BOULDER, CO – Colorado point guard McKinley Wright will have several dozen family members in the stands when the Buffaloes take on No. 13 Dayton in Chicago. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

CHICAGO — Colorado doesn’t often play in Chicago. Getting recruits from one of the biggest basketball cities in the country is even rarer for the Buffaloes.

Through head coach Tad Boyle’s 10-season tenure, the Buffs have never brought a recruit to Boulder from Chicago. Boyle inherited two Chicago natives when he arrived at CU in 2010 in Javon Coney and Marcus Relphorde, and Relphorde arrived in Boulder as a junior college recruit. Prior to that duo, the last CU basketball player to call Chicago home was Marlon Hughes, who was a senior during the 1997-98 season.

“The recruiting landscape in Chicago is an interesting one, and I think you have to find out early in the process, do you have an in? Is there a connection to that kid to Colorado?” Boyle said. “Because, again, you’ve got a lot of Big Ten schools, a lot of Big 12 schools, that those kids can drive to, and their parents can drive to. There’s not a lot of people driving to Boulder from Chicago. So you’d better have an in. So it’s not that it’s not a priority for us, it’s just if you don’t have an in and you’re fighting an uphill battle, maybe you go to another one that you feel like you can win. Because it’s not about recruiting guys out of Chicago. It’s about getting guys out of Chicago. And there’s a big difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you recruit a lot of guys. If you finish second or third or fifth, you’d better get them. Because it’s the guys you get, it’s not the guys you recruited. We’re always looking in that area. You just have to feel like you have an in. We haven’t had one there yet.”

Oddly enough, three of the top five scorers in CU basketball history journeyed to Boulder from Chicago, including No. 3 all-time scorer Donnie Boyce, who is serving as the CU ambassador for the Chicago Legends doubleheader on Saturday as the Buffs take on No. 13 Dayton (4:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network). Also on that list is No. 4 all-time leading scorer Cliff Meely and Shaun Vandiver, who was from south suburban Bolingbrook.

Boyce is back in Chicago coaching basketball at his alma mater at a historical basketball power Proviso East, which has a lengthy list of alums that reached the NBA that includes Doc Rivers and Michael Finley.

“I think for (Boyle) to reconnect in this area, the main thing he probably needs is a guy like me on his staff,” Boyce joked during a Friday press conference for the Chicago Legends.

“But on a serious note, it’s just about doing your due diligence. Chicago is always a hotbed full of talent. The AAU game is probably a bit of a factor nowadays compared to when we were being recruited, it was all through the high school coaches. But building a better relationship with the high school coaches would probably help him not only in Chicago. Coach Boyle should recruit all the major cities.”

Indeed, the list of native Chicago players in the Pac-12 is a short one. USC star forward Nick Rakocevic played at St. Joseph’s, the same high school that produced Detroit Pistons Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas. Arizona State’s Alonzo Verge is a Chicago native who finished his high school career in Florida. UCLA’s Chris Smith also was born in Chicago but played high school basketball in Texas. Stanford senior Rodney Herenton also is from Chicago.

Playing a game in the United Center certainly can’t hurt the Buffs’ recruiting profile in the Windy City, but Boyle said this week the recruiting aspect wasn’t necessarily the priority in scheduling the Dayton game, including allowing junior guard McKinley Wright to play in front of the numerous extended family members that call Chicago home.

“We have a lot of alumni in Chicago. There’s a big CU alumni base there. So this game is for those reasons more than recruiting,” Boyle said. “But certainly playing there and having the Colorado brand and getting high school coaches and players to see our team, and hopefully play well and represent well, it certainly doesn’t hurt. But recruiting is probably down the ranks as to why we’re playing this game.

“Couldn’t get a game in Minneapolis (Wright’s hometown). I always like to try to get guys back home. The California guys, the league does that for us. Tyler (Bey), the Vegas thing, the tournament is there. Shane (Gatling) is only here two years and couldn’t get to New York. We always love to get to New York and Chicago and some of the better basketball cities in the country and this is a great opportunity for that, and to play a quality opponent.”

Bright lights

Saturday’s game marks the Buffs’ first in a full-time NBA arena in three years, when they played Notre Dame and Texas at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Among the current Buffs, only senior forward Lucas Siewert played in those games.

“It’s going to be really fun. I’ve never been there,” CU junior D’Shawn Schwartz said. “Coach Boyle schedules these games for a reason, to play against good teams in good arenas. It’s a good opportunity for us. I haven’t really played anywhere like that, so that will be pretty fun. Maybe it will give guys a little taste of what it’s like to play at the next level.”


CU redshirt sophomore Evan Battey also said he has never been to Chicago, though his grandfather was a catcher on the White Sox’s 1959 World Series team…After going 7-for-12 on 3-pointers through the season’s first five games, junior guard Maddox Daniels is 1-for-11 in the past six games.