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Rooney: Win against Georgetown, and 2017 recruiting class can be considered CU Buffs’ best-ever

NCAA tourney glory only thing missing for decorated class

BOULDER, CO - Feb. 6, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – February 6, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey gets an offensive rebound during the Arizona at Colorado men’s basketball game in Boulder on February 6, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The 2017 recruiting class has been much more than just McKinley Wright IV.

It has been a program-changing group, and one that could go down as the greatest ever in Buffaloes men’s basketball history. Suffer yet another first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, and their case for the greatest ever will remain in the debate.

Win against Georgetown, and the debate is over.

Whenever they remove those black-and-gold jerseys for the final time — and there still is at least one more season ahead for 2017 big man Evan Battey — the mark left by the 2017 class won’t soon be forgotten.

It hasn’t been a perfect run. No Pac-12 titles, either in the regular season or conference tournament. No NCAA Tournament appearances, though that drought is partly due to a technicality, that being the COVID-19 pandemic that erased last year’s expected bid. Enough bad losses, from the maddening season-ending five-game losing streak last year to blowing a 19-point second-half lead at home this season, to always wonder if the lofty ceiling set by the 2017 recruiting class should have been higher.

But there have plenty of big wins, too. Eighty-three in total, and the numbers don’t lie.

If D’Shawn Schwartz scores five points against Georgetown on Saturday, it will mark the first time a single CU recruiting class has produced three 1,000-point scorers. Battey, forced to redshirt as a true freshman, is on pace to make it four next season.

Tyler Bey finished as a top-30 scorer and top-10 rebounder in just three seasons before becoming a second-round NBA draft pick. Wright has rewritten the record book, going into the NCAA Tournament as the Buffs’ all-time leader in assists while ranked sixth in scoring. His milestones and accolades are too numerous to detail in a lone column.

Schwartz is set to join the 1,000-point club and has hit arguably the two biggest shots in his class’ run, knocking off 13th-ranked Dayton with a 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer last year and, last week in the Pac-12 semifinals, lifting the Buffs to a thrilling win against USC with a tip-dunk with 3.3 seconds to go. Battey is set to join the 1,000-point club early next season.

Moreover, the group has represented the program and university with class and character, whether it was by hitting the streets of Boulder last season for the student-organized Buffs March, or with Battey joining the recently-organized NABC Player Development Coalition. They have been easy to root for. It’s impossible to not appreciate the joy Wright’s career has brought to a family that has traversed the darkest of life’s hurdles. Schwartz, the Colorado Springs native, has put together the best career of a Tad Boyle homegrown recruit not named Josh Scott. Every minute played by Battey and his beaming personality is a gift to Buffs fans after he nearly lost more than just a basketball career with the stroke he suffered as a freshman.

I get it. Buffs fans are starved for NCAA Tournament success after three straight first-round losses. This team, however, is better constructed for a tourney run than the ones behind those three first-round defeats. The 2013 squad leaned heavily on youngsters (four of the top five scorers were either sophomores or freshmen). The 2014 team limped into the tournament without Spencer Dinwiddie. The 2016 team had Scott, but the NCAA Tournament typically comes down to guard play, as was the case in that come-from-ahead first-round loss against UConn. In that regard, this year’s team is far superior.

Earlier this season, Boyle was asked if the 2017 class will go down as the best in Buffs basketball history. To summarize, Boyle deferred the decision until the group could get a taste of the NCAA Tournament.

Chauncey Billups didn’t become a CU hoops legend with his slow-building Hall of Fame NBA career. He became the king of Colorado hoops when he led the Buffs past Indiana in the first round of the 1997 tournament.

Secure a win in Indiana, fittingly, on Saturday, and the 2017 group will forever be considered the Billups of men’s basketball recruiting classes.