Model of stability Lucas Siewert ready for final home game with CU Buffs

Brazilian native left home as a teenager to pursue hoops dreams

Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – Dec. 10, 2019: University of Colorado’s Lucas Siewert sinks a three-pointer during an NCAA game against Northern Iowa on Tuesday at the Coors Event Center in Boulder. (Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

On the surface of it, the idea bordered on the impossible.

Even as a teenager, Lucas Siewert was motivated enough to push his burgeoning basketball skills to the limit. Even if that meant leaving home for at least four years, and longer if his mad plan worked. Even if meant journeying more than 6,000 miles from home to a country where he knew no one, and didn’t know a single word of the native language.

Yet that’s the exact bargain Siewert struck with himself eight years ago, when he decided to leave his hometown in southern Brazil for Los Angeles, beginning a basketball journey that will culminate Saturday when Siewert and fellow Colorado senior Shane Gatling play their final home game for the 18th-ranked Buffaloes against UCLA.

Siewert decided to move to America for high school, playing at Cathedral High in Los Angeles. He didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak English, and wasn’t even well-versed in what it would take to play major college basketball. Yet when his CU career finally hits the end on the road at some point in March, few players will have made more 3-pointers, or suited up more frequently, for the Buffs than Siewert.

“I didn’t know any English at the time. I moved when I was 15,” Siewert said. “My dad came with me. He stayed in LA for a week before he went back home. I remember the night he left was just the saddest night of my life. I was by myself in a new country. New language, new culture, new everything. It was tough. I was 15, leaving the comfort of home and your family. But I had a dream and I wanted to go after it.”

Siewert originally was committed to Arizona State but, in much of the same turn of events that led McKinley Wright IV to CU, the coaching change at ASU that brought Bobby Hurley to Tempe allowed Siewert to re-open his recruiting.

CU coach Tad Boyle had already kicked the proverbial tires on Siewert, but he wasn’t completely sold on the big man with the great shooting touch and little inside game.

“He’d committed to Arizona State. And if I’m honest, I wasn’t too concerned,” Boyle said. “I felt like Lucas was a guy in high school who kind of hung around the 3-point line. And I wasn’t sure if he could be anything more than just a 3-point shooter. He was skinny. He wasn’t real physical. He didn’t like physicality. So that’s how I felt about him at the time.

“But in the spring, things changed a little bit. Spring recruiting and fall recruiting for kids out of high school are different. In the spring, I remember at the Final Four talking to one of his AAU coaches. I know he’s good enough to play in the Pac-12. Is he good enough to win in the Pac-12? That was the thing I needed to convince myself.”

Colorado senior forward Lucas Siewert(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Boyle is referring to the spring of 2016, when two scholarships became available with the departure of little-used forward Kenan Guzonjic and the transfer of Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who won the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year in 2018 at Toledo. Boyle was able to add Siewert and Missouri transfer Namon Wright to the roster, and while injuries limited Wright to 44 games over two seasons, Siewert slowly built himself into a model of stability.

Siewert at times battled inconsistency throughout his first three seasons, yet he goes into his final home game as a legitimate contender for the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year award. He has missed only two games in four years, sitting out a pair of contests due to an ankle injury early in his sophomore year that he returned from more quickly than planned after fellow forward Tory Miller-Stewart suffered a season-ending broken foot.

With a minimum of six games remaining this season, Siewert is on pace to finish in the top five in games played for CU, and any sort of extended run in either the Pac-12 tournament or the NCAA Tournament would put Siewert in the top three. His .400 3-point percentage is on pace to be among the top 10 single-season marks in CU history, and he also is likely to finish within the top 10 in career 3-point percentage. Siewert’s 135 made 3-pointers ranks eighth all-time.

Not a bad resume for a player who had zero inkling what the future might hold when he made the gutsy decision to leave the comforts of home eight years ago.

“I’m just grateful for this opportunity. It’s something I never imagined when I moved to the United States,” Siewert said. “I didn’t even know about college basketball. When I was a sophomore in high school, that’s when I got my first offer from Cal. Everybody was congratulating me and I wasn’t really aware of what that really meant. Once I started learning about it, it’s was a great opportunity and I’m grateful for it and I love it here.

“That was the goal — get better every year. Putting the work in the summer, whether I went home or stayed here, in the weight room. I think I’ve gotten bigger every year. And also feeling more comfortable on the court. That helps as well.”

UCLA Bruins at No. 18 CU Buffs

TIPOFF: Saturday, 2 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — CBS; Radio — 760 AM.

RECORDS: UCLA 16-11, 9-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 21-6, 10-4.

COACHES: UCLA — Mick Cronin, 1st season (16-11, 381-182 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (210-129 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: UCLA — G Chris Smith, Jr., 13.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg; F Jalen Hill, R-So., 9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, .527 field goal percentage; G Jaime Jaquez, Fr., 8.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg; F Cody Riley, R-So., 8.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .508 field goal percentage; G Tyger Campbell, R-Fr., 8.0 ppg, 4.4 apg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Jr., 13.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.3 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .521 field goal percentage; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-So., 8.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The battle of the boards. In league games, UCLA ranks third in rebounding margin at plus-3.6. The Buffs are second at plus-4.2 but were dominated on the glass 39-29 in a loss at UCLA three weeks ago.

NOTES: The Buffs had won four consecutive games against UCLA before suffering a 72-68 loss in Los Angeles in Jan. 30. CU surrendered a career-high 30 points UCLA’s Chris Smith…Since struggling through an uncharacteristic 0-for-4 mark on 3-pointers against Cal on Feb. 6, CU’s Lucas Siewert has gone 9-for-19 on 3-pointers over the past four games. As a team during that span, the Buffs have shot .427 (41-for-96) on 3-pointers…The Buffs hit the road next week for games Thursday at Cal (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network) and Sunday March 1 at Stanford (4 p.m. MT, ESPNU).