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Social justice issues big area of conversation for CU men’s basketball

Tad Boyle remembers late Arizona legend Lute Olson

University of Colorado athletes K.D. Nixon, left, Chris Miller, former athlete Laviska Shenault Jr. and Mckinley Wright IV hold their hands up in a moment of silence that lasted eight-minutes and 46 seconds during a “Black Lives Matter” protest and march on Friday, June 5, 2020 in Boulder. The march was in response to the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota by a white police officer and the eight-minutes and 46 seconds represented the amount of time the police restrained Floyd. (Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)

As the fight to raise awareness of the nation’s social justice issues continues to permeate the sports world, the Colorado men’s basketball team expects to do its part.

What exactly that will look like remains to be seen.

In a recent interview with BuffZone, head coach Tad Boyle acknowledged that addressing social justice issues and racial inequity remains an ongoing topic of conversation within the team. Although Boyle declined to offer specifics, he admitted the Buffs are planning to address these matters off and, eventually, on the court in the coming months.

“There’s some things that we’re doing. I’d rather keep them amongst our team rather than going public with them,” Boyle said. “We’re trying to help our players navigate this situation and world as best as we can. There is no silver bullet answer that any person or coach has. It’s unfortunate, but we’re dealing with it as best as we can.”

Buffs point guard McKinley Wright stood alongside CU receiver KD Nixon at the forefront of the Buffs March in Boulder on June 5, which was organized in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis — an incident that sparked national outrage and occurred within 20 minutes of Wright’s family home. Forward Evan Battey participated in several marches this summer near his hometown in Southern California, and two weeks ago he was named to the first annual Player Development Coalition for the National Association of Basketball Coaches. That group is hoping to be a conduit between basketball players and campus administrators on all issues facing collegiate athletes, but social justice matters are expected to be at the forefront.

Last week, pro sports leagues across the country halted competition in the wake of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisc., getting shot in the back seven times by a white police officer. On Monday, Alabama football coach Nick Saban led a march of dozens of Crimson Tide athletes through campus, ending at Foster Auditorium — the same venue where former Alabama governor George Wallace attempted to prevent entry of Black students after desegregation orders in 1963.

“We’ve got a couple things in place that we’re going to try to do about it,” Boyle said. “We talk about it as a group. I know our players talk about it amongst themselves and it’s an ongoing situation. I don’t have a lot of answers for our team, but I try to create a culture and an environment where we can talk about it and share our thoughts and ideas about it.”

In memoriam

College basketball lost two of its most beloved former coaches over the past week with the passing of former Arizona coach Lute Olson and Georgetown legend John Thompson.

Boyle got to know Olson a little bit after the Buffs moved into the Pac-12 Conference and started visiting Arizona almost every year. Amid the fervent sold-out crowds at the McKale Center, the regal former coach with the impeccable silver hair often was the only friendly face that greeted Boyle.

“Lute Olson obviously was a great coach, and I did get a chance to meet him over the past eight to 10 years,” Boyle said. “I’ve got great respect not only for what he did at Arizona, but at Iowa and just his coaching career. He was a good man. He was very well-respected. I thought he represented our game extremely well. Obviously he was a big part of the Pac-10 before it became the Pac-12. It’s a sad day, because he was a good man and a great coach and I guy I’ll miss seeing.

“He was at the games all the time when we’d play at Arizona. I have a lot of respect for Lute Olson and it was a sad moment when I learned of his death.”