Exactly zero Colorado basketball fans realized it at the time, but a game played on March 13 that was completely off the radar in the Rocky Mountains offered a glimpse of future reinforcements for the Buffaloes.
In the championship game of the Ivy League tournament, Jalen Gabbidon’s Yale Bulldogs edged Princeton 66-64 in Cambridge, Mass. On the losing end was Princeton guard Ethan Wright, despite contributing 15 points and four rebounds. Gabbidon and the Bulldogs moved on to the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a first-round matchup against Purdue.
Although they spent years battling one another as conference foes, Gabbidon and Wright didn’t really know each other until they arrived in Boulder this summer to take advantage of their extra seasons of eligibility with the Buffs. Now they are teammates, roommates, and the two most experienced players on a CU team balancing a core of returning players with a glut of newcomers.
“We were kind of enemies for a little bit,” Wright said. “There was always a little rivalry with Yale and they were always really, really good. We guarded each other a lot, too. So we’re both competitors, and then we found out we were going to be not only playing but living together. We’ve definitely gone back-and-forth with some of the Ivy League stories and talked about some of the players and coaches. It’s really great having a guy like him around, another older guy from the same type of situation that I was in just to be able to chop it up and go through the same stuff together.”
Both guards boast similar statures — Gabbidon is 6-foot-5, Wright is 6-foot-3 — and could fill similar roles along the wing for the Buffs. Wright averaged 14.7 points last season, shot .395 from 3-point range and, despite his size, ranked fourth in the Ivy League in rebounding (6.9 rpg). Gabbidon was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season and averaged 11.3 points and 3.6 rebounds last year.
Gabbidon and Wright squared off three times last season alone, and their newfound kinship has resulted in taking notes about the rivals they left behind, as well as a constant game of one-upmanship regarding the décor in their new home.
“It’s been hilarious,” Gabbidon said. “We’ve been able to go back-and-forth, talking about the different players in the (Ivy) League. We had some battles, but it’s been great to hear someone that feels the same way as you were feeling about some of those teams and players over the years. Then at home, he put up a Princeton banner. So I had to put up my Yale championship banner to remind him. It’s been great and we’ve had a lot of back-and-forth about it.”
With the graduation of Evan Battey, there is a leadership void the Buffs will attempt to address during the preseason. Two returning starters, juniors Tristan da Silva and Nique Clifford, hope to fill some of that gap along with point guard KJ Simpson, a possible leader given his role as the point guard in addition to his fiery on-court persona. Yet Gabbidon and Wright are the oldest, most experienced players on the team, and Gabbidon is the only player on the Buffs roster who has started an NCAA Tournament game.
Even though they are newcomers, chances are their voices will be valued.
“We have two seniors, but this is their first year in the program,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But (their leadership) could happen by January or February, easily, if that’s the direction it heads.”