SAN FRANCISCO — From the end of the 2019-20 college basketball season, when the NCAA Tournament was abruptly canceled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, through last year’s crowd-less, constantly juggled campaign, the adversity in many cases fueled a fresh appreciation for the game among coaches and players alike.
For Evan Battey, it was just another hurdle to conquer in a career that has been full of them.
Colorado’s fifth-year senior forward on Wednesday brought his infectious enthusiasm to the stage at the annual Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball media day. Although the Buffs began preseason workouts two weeks ago, the event serves as a sort of unofficial tip-off to the Pac-12 basketball season.
Battey was the only fifth-year senior to land a spot on the 10-player preseason all-conference team as voted upon by league media members, and the event continued his evolution as a sturdy forward who also happens to be a thoughtful future coach and well-respected campus leader.
“I don’t want to look back on my college experience and have regrets,” Battey said. “I think my mentality in approaching everything that way reflects on my friendships and relationships. I’m very involved. I like people. I’m excited to carry on my future endeavors, but I’m definitely going to miss this place.”
Battey has made no secret of his intention to one day be a college basketball coach. His pedigree as a player — he has averaged 9.0 points and 5.1 rebounds in 100 games over the past three seasons — tells only part of the story why Battey likely is destined to be a thoughtful and effective coach.
The 6-foot-8 forward missed two full seasons, his senior year in high school and his true freshman year at CU, due basically to bureaucratic red tape. While sitting out that freshman year, Battey suffered a frightening stroke that threatened to take basketball away from him completely.
While emerging as a steady frontcourt presence for the Buffs, Battey has become a sort of man of the people around campus. He is a regular attendee of the games for his CU athletics brethren, and any photo of Battey at a football game typically includes dozens of his schoolmates jockeying for screen space behind his ample frame.
The nickname “The Mayor” already has been anointed upon former CU guard Spencer Dinwiddie. But head coach Tad Boyle has an equally appropriate nickname for Battey.
“If Spencer is ‘The Mayor’ then Evan is ‘The Governor,’” Boyle said. “Spencer was great, don’t get me wrong, but Evan has taken it to another level.”
Boyle has so much respect for Battey’s basketball acumen that CU’s head coach did something that might be unthinkable for other Division I head coaches. Faced with a staff opening earlier this year when former Buffs guard Nate Tomlinson left his position as CU’s Director of Player Development to take an assistant coach job at George Mason, Boyle decided to call Battey before he began interviews for the position.
Not because he wanted Battey’s input on who to hire, but because Boyle was willing to wait a year to fill the spot if Battey wanted to begin his coaching career as soon as his college playing days were over.
Tomlinson clearly was a coach in the making, even during his CU career a decade ago. Yet Boyle said he has never had a player as ready to become a coach at such as young age as Battey.
“Not in terms of being ready that early, no,” Boyle said. “When I had the opening on the staff it occurred to me I’d better check with Evan. I called him about eight o’clock one night, and I asked him where he wanted to be a year from now. And if he said coaching, I would’ve held the position open for him. That’s how much I think of him. He wants to play professional basketball, so he’s going to play that out. But whenever he’s ready, I’ll hire him tomorrow.”
The shift from a veteran team, which won a first-round game at the NCAA Tournament in March with Battey and his since-departed classmates leading the way, to a young group high on talent but short on experience is teaching Battey the future coach new lessons in patience. Typically quick to point out and correct his teammates’ mistakes at practice, Battey is learning to become more pragmatic in his approach, knowing the 2021-22 Buffs are shaping up to be a team that should be much better in February than in November.
“Every day in life, for me, is a learning process,” Battey said. “Every day is different. I try to teach the young guys, and when they mess up, I try not to overreact. That comes with patience. That comes with timing. You can say a thing at the wrong time and it can come off disrespectful. I’m trying to toe that line of when to lead, when to say something and when to not. I’m trying to master that every day.”