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Rick Ray welcomes returns to assistant role in joining CU basketball

Former SE Missouri State head coach mulling future when Tad Boyle called

Southeast Missouri State Athletics
Rick Ray welcomes returns to assistant role in joining CU basketball

Not long after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down NCAA athletics in March, Rick Ray found himself in a situation not unlike far too many of his fellow Americans. Stuck at home. Suddenly unemployed. And ready to whittle the days by indulging in some long overdue family time.

Of course, as a widely-respected veteran basketball coach, Ray’s situation wasn’t nearly as tenuous as so many others. Yet after an eight-year run as a Division I head coach that was a struggle in terms of the standings, Ray was content enough taking a breather at home while hitting the re-set button.

And so, for the first time in a career spanning more than two decades, Ray didn’t spend the spring reviewing game film and identifying potential recruits. Instead, Ray helped his former assistants at Southeast Missouri State land new jobs and gladly took over the teaching-from-home duties for his kids.

Then, in May, Anthony Coleman decided to leave the Colorado men’s basketball program after just one season on head coach Tad Boyle’s staff. Boyle proceeded to call Ray, whom he had gotten to know in the early 2000s when both men were assistants in the Missouri Valley Conference. Suddenly Ray’s little corner of the nation’s quarantine wasn’t so quiet anymore.

“I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to do,” said Ray, who was announced as CU’s newest assistant on Friday. “I was in a good place. It was unfortunate that a pandemic and not having a job forced the issue. But I had a chance to spend more time with my family, especially my two young boys, that I’ve never had a chance to do. I was a home school teacher and doing all those things online with my boys. I spent a ton of time with them and was just kind of in that mode there.

“When Tad reached out to me I was immediately interested because I’ve got a great deal of respect for Tad. I think Colorado is a great job in itself, but it’s really important to me that I’m working for the right people. And Tad just reminds me of guys I’ve worked for, like Matt Painter and Brad Brownell, that are just basketball guys that do it the right way.”

Ray is the third coach to hold that spot on Boyle’s staff in about 14 months, as Kim English left for Tennessee in April 2019, only to be replaced by Coleman. Unlike his two predecessors, who were younger and relative newcomers to the coaching ranks, Ray brings a lengthy resume to his new job in Boulder.

After 15 seasons as an assistant, most notably at Clemson and Purdue, Ray spent the past eight years as a head coach. His teams struggled to take off, as he is coming off a 51-104 run in five seasons at Southeast Missouri State. Previously, he went 37-60 in three seasons at Mississippi State, and in eight seasons as a head coach, Ray’s clubs posted just one winning season within the conference (SEMO went 9-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2016-17).

As Ray returns to an assistant role, however, he believes the experience has broadened his perspective as a coach, regardless of the win total. His addition arguably gives the Buffs their most experienced coaching staff during Boyle’s tenure, as his 11th season at CU will be his first with two former Division I head coaches on his bench. Bill Grier, going into his fifth season with the Buffs, was the head coach at San Diego for eight seasons and led the Toreros to the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

“I think I have a much better perspective on what you need from an assistant coach in order to help a head coach,” Ray said. “I think it’s really important that we as assistants to just try to keep a lot off coach’s plate, so he can concentrate on the things that are really important. Which is coaching the basketball team and building relationships with players.”