Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 2013 Senior Class

Senior Day isn't until Saturday, but, with the way the Pac-12 schedules, it almost feels almost like Senior Week

For CU, this is the first season since 2009-10 that the men's program will only graduated one player - it was Dwight Thorne's solo spotlight back then.  Much like that campaign, the honoree in 2013 may have wound up as a 'glue guy' on the court, but has developed as a vital emotional leader off of it.  That leader, Sabatino Chen, may not lead the team in any statistical categories (other than GPA), but has proven essential to the success of the program in all aspects.  Further, he will leave the program having been a part of it's most successful three-year run in the shot clock era.

After the jump, I'll give my thoughts on Sabatino's career, while also taking a look at what I best remember from his time here.

Sabatino Chen - Louisville, CO -

When Sabatino graduated high school, few D-1 schools wanted his services. One coach, Tad Boyle, then of Northern Colorado, expressed continued interest throughout the recruiting process. While Sabatino would eventually jump at a late offer from Denver, the fact that Coach Boyle remained interested must have stuck in his mind. After two years coming off the bench for the Pioneers, Chen was looking for another opportunity, and Coach Boyle happily offered him a preferred walk-on role with his developing roster - only now, instead of playing in Greeley at UNC, it would be for Chen's "dream school," CU.
He may have started out at DU, but Sabatino defines what it means to be a Buffalo.
Sabatino wouldn't play much his first two years in Boulder.  After sitting out 2010-11 due to transfer rules, he was a spot replacement in the 8th/9th-man role last season.  Chen would see about 10 minutes per night, averaging 2/1 for the campaign.  Based on this production, I didn't see much of a role for him headed into his senior year.

Instead, Coach Boyle saw his effort, his off-screen improvement, and had much more confidence in the former Monarch High star.  On a team without the large senior classes of previous years, having the team's lone senior in a spot of leadership was imperative. As a result, Sabatino received a scholarship for his senior year, and was eventually slotted into the starting lineup.  Chen responded to his Coach's confidence by consistently logging strong, not explosive, minutes.
Let the hair fly!  From: the BDC
Defying most preseason predictions, he has started 18 games this season, and has been a vital member of the rotation.  His numbers still aren't eye-popping for a player earning 24 minutes per night, but 5/2 averages are honestly more than I expected.

In the end, how you view Sabatino's career depends greatly on how you interpret his scholarship status.  While technically 'on scholarship,' he came into the program as a walk-on, and would otherwise have remained so if not for a scholarship coming open this year.

Seen through the lens of a walk-on, he might be enjoying one of the best senior seasons in the nation.  How many basketball walk-ons earn 24 minutes of playing time on a Tournament team, and start the majority of games in their final season?  Not many, and Sabatino deserves all the credit for forcing Coach Boyle to play him over more traditional scholarship options.

Sabatino won't be the only  player leaving the program after this season.  With three recruits on the way, and only one scholarship opening, there will be additional attrition. When the scenarios shake themselves out, the departing will get their due.  For this week, however, the spotlight, deservedly, belongs to #23.
Every team needs that energy guy who's just going to out-work the opponent.  Sabatino fit that bill.  From: the BDC
If a Buffalo Heart award was handed out in basketball the same way it is in football, Sabatino would have to be my pick.  It's hard to toil on the bench, and work behind the scenes - all while paying for the privilege - but Chen put in his work, and ended up leaving his mark on his dream program.  What more could you ask for?

Said Boyle last year, "The thing I love about Sabatino is he understands his role. He's not interested in individual numbers. He just wants to help the team. I really appreciate that." (-link)

As do I.

Thank you, Sabatino.


Best remembered for - 

Undoubtedly, the single moment Sabatino will be remembered for in future years is the shot-that-wasn't in Tucson.  Overnight, Chen turned from a fringe starter on a sleeper team into a national star.  He appeared on ESPN, countless radio programs, and was the subject of hundreds of thousands of YouTube replays.
Shot was good.
Had that shot been counted, as it most assuredly should've been, he would've been the center of highlight reels for years to come.  Instead, his became a story of perseverance and success through adversity.  A different emotional high, but one that will stick in the memories of BuffNation, none-the-less.

Best aspect of his game - 

Well, there's the hair, and his strong academic work.  On-court, his best move is his left-handed layup.  Opponents are expecting it a little more these days, but the southpaw has been known to cross up a few defenders attacking the rim with 'the other' hand.
Dribble-drive, spin move, finish with the left - the Sabatino special.  From: the BDC
Best game as a Buff - 1/3/13 @ Arizona -

There's really no other option.  Removed from the starting lineup for the first time all season, Sab responded with a career-high 15 points.  Even without the shot-that-wasn't, he had a stellar game.

His performance against USC a week later was also strong, but this one got him on ESPN, and made him a household name.  You can't argue with his 15-seconds of fame.

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