Chuck Williams didn’t necessarily see a championship on the way. But he knew Cliff Meely was on the way, and that even without him the Colorado Buffaloes likely were on the rise.
Williams is one of dozens of former Buffaloes basketball players who will be the guests of honor Sunday afternoon as coach Tad Boyle’s program celebrates its annual alumni weekend, this time featuring players from the Sox Walseth coaching era, with the Buffs’ Pac-12 Conference showdown against Utah (4 p.m., ESPNU).
One of the threads connecting a group of basketball alums spanning two full decades of Walseth’s tenure as the CU men’s basketball coach to Boyle’s current team is the Buffs’ pursuit of a Pac-12 Conference regular season crown. While the Buffs won the Pac-12 tournament at the end of their first season in the league in 2012, the program hasn’t celebrated a regular season crown since it was accomplished three times under Walseth, most recently in the 1968-69 season.
That was one year after Williams completed a career that landed him a spot in the CU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018. Yet knowing Meely was on the way, and seeing the talent waiting in the wings for the Buffs in the 1967-68 freshman class (freshmen were ineligible for varsity play at that time), it was clear to Williams better days were on the way for CU.
“My senior year was not the best year. It was a down year and a lot of guys graduated that I played with,” Williams said. “But the next year with Cliff coming in, that obviously made few a big difference. Gordie Tope was one of those. Dudley Mitchell played. Ron Smith was on that team. With the sophomores that I played with, they were really talented. And then knowing that Cliff Meely was coming, and Cliff was all that, and Sox was coaching. No question I thought they were going to be a very good team. But to win the Big Eight? There was Kansas and Kansas State. Iowa State, they were always powerhouses.”
Boyle has always tied the basketball alumni weekend with a past coaching era at CU, and going into this season only two modern-area coaches had yet to be honored — Walseth and Boyle’s predecessor, Jeff Bzdelik. Boyle said the initial plan this season was to focus on the Bzdelik era. But with Bzdelik still working as an assistant with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, and with Bzdelik recruits like Alec Burks, Cory Higgins, and Marcus Relphorde still playing professionally, the Buffs settled on honoring the Walseth era this year.
Due in large part to the 20-year span of Walseth’s tenure, the reunion will be the largest-attended gathering of the alumni weekends. The dozens on the guest list include Ken Charlton, Burdie Haldorson, Larry Vaculik, and Jim Creighton.
“It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s neat to see all these guys that I played with and those that I watched play when I was in high school,” said Williams, who won a state title at Denver East and later had a stop with the Nuggets during his professional career. “And those few of them that came afterward, and to know where all here because of Sox and how he’s touched everybody’s lives is pretty amazing. I’ve kept in contact with his kids. They’re wonderful people.”
All-in on Allen
The Buffs will be tasked with slowing Utah sophomore forward Timmy Allen, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring with 21.1 points per game. He posted double-doubles in each of Utah’s first two conference games last week, scoring 25 points with 10 rebounds in a win against Oregon State before posting 19 points with 11 rebounds in a loss against Oregon.
However Allen, who is shooting an even 50 percent for the season, had to work for his points in those two games, finishing with a 12-for-35 mark (.343).
“He can score at the rim. He can make free throws. He’s got a great mid-range game,” Boyle said of Allen. “He’s a capable 3-point shooter. I don’t think that’s his greatest strength, but he’s not afraid to take them and he can make a few. And he’s just a tough-minded, gritty, competitive dude that puts a lot of pressure on your defense. Much like Oregon State, getting the ball in the paint, he’s going to look to get the ball in the paint. We’ve got to keep him out of the paint. It’s going to take a team effort.”
Allen enjoyed a big game against the Buffs last season in Salt Lake, scoring 21 points with 10 rebounds in a nine-point Utah win that was far more lopsided than the score indicated. In Boulder, however, Allen managed just 11 points with three rebounds in a CU victory.
Utah sophomore 6-foot-9 forward Riley Battin was recruited by the Buffs and played a key role in the Utes’ win against Kentucky on Dec. 18, going 4-for-5 with 10 points. However, in the three games since he has gone 3-for-17 with 14 total points…CU forward Tyler Bey needs eight rebounds to pass Charlton for 16th-place on the Buffs’ all-time rebounding list…CU leads the all-time series against Utah 28-23 and the home team has won the past four matchup. The Buffs have won their past two home games against the Utes, but prior to that Utah had recorded three straight wins at the Events Center.