Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The 2016 Senior Class

Before I get to the celebration of a joyous win over Arizona, or my preview of the season's final home game against Arizona State, it's time to take a step back and remember a quartet of seniors who will run out of the north tunnel for the final time on Sunday.

Just shy of four years ago, Colorado Basketball put the finishing touches on what still stands as the most highly rated recruiting class in the modern history of the program.  Capitalizing on a dramatic, 24-win season that culminated in a run to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Boyle and staff landed what was rated by many as a top-25 class in the country.  The buzz surrounding that class was so palpable that the administration did what they haven't since: held a spring recruiting luncheon to celebrate the achievement.

It was a six-member class built around two national top-100 talents - Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson - one of whom, Scott, was the one of the brightest talents ever to emerge from the high school ranks in Colorado.  That pair of four-star blue chippers was joined by an additional two more in-state high school champions - Wes Gordon and Xavier Talton - who were well known around the Centennial State as gritty, capable performers.  The group was finally rounded out by a set of two out-of-state, enigmatic guards - Eli Stalzer and Chris Jenkins - who were under-the-radar adds, but none-the-less embraced by a happy, expectant BuffNation.

Of course, at is is often wont to do, attrition has taken its toll.  What was once a solid sextet has been broken up, and three of those original six are not taking a bow this weekend.  Wes Gordon went the redshirt route his first year in Boulder, and still has a senior season to play.  Xavier Johnson is still with the program as well, sitting out this year recovering from an Achilles tear; his future is uncertain, but he could also be honored in Boulder a year from now after a medical redshirt season.  Chris Jenkins, though, left the program entirely after his own redshirt in 2013, choosing to play closer to home with the Detroit Titans (for those wondering, Jenkins is averaging 13/6 and shooting near 45% from deep in this, his junior year).

That leaves us with three scholarship players to honor this week - Josh Scott, Xavier Talton, and Eli Stalzer - along with a standout walkon, Brett Brady. Scott is, obviously, the highlighted name on the list, soon to go down as one of the best to ever wear a uniform emblazoned on the front with 'COLORADO;' all, however, are true Buffs.  As a group, they've won 80 games (to-date), helping bring the program to two NCAA Tournament appearances, and place them on the verge of a third.  They've been on the court for program-defining wins over Kansas, Arizona (twice*), Oregon (four times), and Baylor; a non-conference tournament title at the 2012 Charleston Classic; and three satisfying wins against little brother. They are, undoubtedly, winners; cornerstones of one of the greatest stretches in the history of the program. And all four have left their own mark on Colorado Basketball, and deserve a final standing ovation in tribute of careers built on hard work, effort, and class.

After the jump, I'll give my thoughts on the careers of all four, while also taking a look at what I best remember from their time here.

Click below for the post...

Josh Scott - Monument, CO - Sociology - 

Back at the start of this season, with practices and scrimmages standing as the most important basketball moments of the week, Josh Scott was particularly honest about his grapple with the dawn of his senior campaign. He spoke openly in pre-season press conferences about the artificial shortening of Time, that relative whore, with each session on the hardwood seeming, to him, shorter than it ought to be. I think anyone who has ever faced their final year in college can relate, basketball player or not. There is a desperate sense of greasy fluidity to everything that happens as a senior, from tests to parties to simply going about your daily grind.  For better or worse, it's the end of an entire chapter of your life -- nothing that was will ever be the same again.  You mind knows it, too, and is trying to remember everything.  I think it just gets caught up in the recording process, and forgets to properly assess the draining grains of sand in the hourglass.
Josh is the heart and soul of this program.  From: the BDC
And, as time seems to have sped up for Scott, it has for us in the stands, as well. His final moments as a Buff are flying by as the team surges towards the post season, and fewer and fewer are the opportunities for those of us in BuffNation to appreciate his brilliance on the basketball court.  But, before we get too wrapped up in the chase of a Dance ticket, we need to take a second of pause to consider just what Josh Scott was able to accomplish here in Boulder.

We all fall into the trap of bemoaning Colorado's often spotty basketball past, but that belies the truth that some truly fantastic talents have come through Boulder over the years, particularly from the forward slots.  Greats like Cliff Meely, Burdie Haldorson, Ken Charlton, Jim Davis, Shaun Vandiver, Scott Wedman, David Harrison, Stephane Pelle, and Andre Roberson have each left their mark in Boulder.  Undoubtedly, Josh Scott is worthy of that list, and should be featured prominently.  He is 'the real deal,' combining transcendent talent on both ends of the court with a calming demeanor; as good a leader on the scoreboard as he is on the practice court.

Statistically, his has been a monster career.  By the time he finishes, Josh Scott should be in the top-6 in program history in points scored, top-5 in rebounds, top-4 in blocks, and top-5 in games played.  He has a career offensive rating over 125, a career defensive rating under 100, and, through win shares, has directly contributed over 18 wins to the cause. The only real knock on his profile has always been that CU could never find enough ways to involve Josh in the action, as he has only ever been used on about 21% of all plays through the years.  Overall, there are few in the entire country who can hold a candle to this level of production, especially when you limit your view to just power forwards.  He, then, is the pride of an entire state, the modern standard bearer of state-wide hoops...and it's a wonder he decided to come to CU in the first place.

Josh first came to Colorado as the recruit of promise from Lewis-Palmer High School.  Playing just minutes from the Air Force Academy, where both his parents played varsity sports, he was already a local legend by the time he signed with the Buffs.  He could've gone anywhere, eventually earning a top-50 spot on many recruiting boards, but he chose to stay in state, to lead the flagship that had never before been the cool kid at the basketball table.  It's hard to remember now, but the player eventually to become known as the 'Young Fundamental' committed even before the NIT run in 2011, back when #RollTad was far from a known commodity.  He stayed true to his word throughout the summer, even after blowing up on the AAU circuit, inking his letter of intent in the early signing period that fall.  By the time the program claimed that magical 2012 Pac-12 championship, he had already been a Buff in all but name for four months.  His is not a johnny-come-lately story, then.  He bought in early, and served as a symbol of growth.
Josh was a local legend long before he was a Buff.  From: the Post.
In that light, it's easy to see this 2015-16 squad as Josh's team.  He was the bedrock upon which it was built, after all, the first domino to fall.  What's come since is largely the product of his capabilities as a true team leader.  I talked back in my season preview of legacy shopping, and Josh has bought a big one.  With an ending still yet to be written, 'Josh's team' has exceeded all expectations, and brought Colorado Basketball back to where it belongs -- serious NCAA Tournament consideration.  Maybe the faint (rather foolish) late-season hopes of a title run were hastily constructed, but simply the fact that the Buffs could even build an argument to crown their ass says as much as anything.  After last season's horror show (a season, I will helpfully point out, that largely went down without a healthy Josh Scott), BuffNation, and myself in particular, was only looking for a pulse, a modicum of improvement to just get the program back on its feet.  Instead, behind Jelly, Colorado surged back into respectability, notching just the 9th 20-win season in program history.  Just incredible.

Simply, Josh is one of the best basketball talents to ever emerge from this state.  I'm left wishing there was a way to sneak another year of eligibility in under the NCAA's collective noses.  Whereas his luminous predecessors from the past few years - Alec Burks, Andre Roberson, and Spencer Dinwiddie - left when they needed/wanted to, Josh's is a forced farewell.  That doesn't mean it's a sad one, however.  I'm overjoyed by what the big man has been able to bring to the program since his arrival on campus, and no one has ever deserved the adulation of an appreciative fan base more.  I'm excited to see what he can help this current team achieve over the coming weeks, and even more excited to see what he can bring to the professional ranks.  Good on ya, big fella.  #GoofyBoySwag for life!

Best remembered for - 

His offensive moves around the rim.  As every announcer in America is fond of relating, Josh is an ambidextrous (drink) threat around the rim.  More than just being able to finish with either hand, though, Scott has a bevvy of elite post moves in his arsenal.  Plus, if you guess wrong, the dude shoots 77% from the free throw line.  How do you stop that?  His spin move this season has just taken that to a whole new level.

Best aspect of his game - 

Josh's complete offensive game certainly sets him apart from pretty much every other young big man I have seen play college hoops, and he remains one of the most efficient offensive threats in the country. As he developed as a collegian, however, it has became more and more apparent that the best aspect of his all-around profile was his defense.  Maybe out-shined in some areas by Wes Gordon, Josh doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for proving capable of erasing opponent bigs.  You saw it this year against Utah, where Scott blanked Utah's Jakob Poeltl, a future NBA lottery pick, for most of the action.  Help-side, post-up, face-up, you name it, Josh excels at it... plus, he does it all without fouling. Since taking a backseat to Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie his freshman year, J40 as lead the team in defensive win shares each of the last three seasons (with even better 'advanced' numbers than Gordon).  Yo.

Best game as a Buff - 2/19/14 vs Arizona St

So, so many to choose from. Josh was in the thick of pretty much every meaningful game of the past four years, so there will be a number of good choices to debate over. I selected this one to highlight, however, because of the larger significance.  This was, of course, the 'Bachynski game,' a revenge date of sorts for Josh with the oafish Jordan Bachynski of Arizona State.  Scott had suffered a concision the previous year in this same fixture, falling prey to a cheap take-down move from the Canadian center.  This game, then, was the 'dish best served cold.'

J40 gave no quarter to the ASU center, routinely going toe-to-toe in the paint with the hulking galoot. For all but a handful of instances in the first half, Scott got the better of the fight, controlling the game with a 13/13/2/1 line that towered over Bachynski's 4/4/1.  Further, Josh played 35 minutes without a foul, while his counterpart battled foul trouble for most of the second half, and left the arena with a bum ankle and a black eye.  All things considered, the judges scored it 12 rounds to 0: utter domination. It may not be the most eye-popping score line of his career, but it was the biggest statement made: do not fuck with Jelly.

Xavier Talton - Serling, CO - Business Management - 

In the shadow of a program legend like Josh Scott, it's seductively easy to forget about the contributions of Xavier Talton, but do not undersell the feisty Tiger from Sterling. He too was a high school champion when he signed with Colorado out of the small town in northeast Colorado. He too has been a dramatic contributor to the last four years of CU hoops.  He too will leave the school as a rotational key to three NCAA Tournament runs.  Yes, XT is as big a part of everything this program has been over the last four years as anyone.
XT has been in the thick of a number of big wins for this program.  From: the CU Independent
Many of you out there may be groaning, or rolling your eyes at that sentiment.  Certainly, there have been some moments that Talton has struggled to live up to his status on the roster.  But no one can doubt the kid's heart.  He could've easily shut it down mentally after a rocky junior season, but instead has bounced back to put in some serious work as a senior.  He has earned that starting spot of his the last few games, wresting key minutes from more heralded performers in a crucial stretch of the season. Really, and I'm being very serious here, there's no off-guard on the roster I trust more to be handling the ball right now.  He's consistent, gritty, and I look forward to his presence on the court. Essentially, Xavier is playing as a senior should, going out with a bellow in the last gasps of his career.

His was always the under-appreciated job of 'contributor.'  Roles off the bench, in the next layer of the depth chart, the supporting cast.  When Spencer Dinwiddie went down in 2014, though, there he was, ready and able to put the guard corps on his back, and handle the rock with aplomb.  Given a second shot at that junior campaign, coming off of what he put on paper over the final two months of his sophomore season, I can't help but wonder if we'd all have a different view of the kid.  Regardless, I will never fail to recognize his versatility, his strong defense, or his compact jumper.  I hope that at some point over the coming weeks Xavier gets to take a big shot, to put the team on his back with the game on the line.  He's earned the opportunity, and I can't help but believe that he'll seize it.  That's the way with maligned Colorado point guards, after all.  They always seem to step up when you least expect them to.

Best remembered for - 

Picking up the pieces after Spencer went down.  After a performance against Utah where he almost single-handedly put the team on his back (more on that in a moment), Talton went on to start the final 13 games of the 2013-14 season, and play competent, composed basketball throughout.  At that point I thought for sure he would be the starting point guard for the next two years.  While that was not to be, Colorado would not have made the Tournament that year without him.

Best aspect of his game - 

His jump shot.  Talton has been shying away from it as of late, passing up open looks.  That's probably a result of his lackluster shooting performance as a junior, only hitting 31% from behind the arc.  For his career, though, he's a 37% outside assassin.  As a sophomore, he was 7th in conference play, hitting 41% of his attempts from deep.  His form has always struck me as quick, composed, and solid. I only wish he could've shown it off more, with consistency.

Best game as a Buff - 2/1/14 vs Utah

This game took place at a very dark time for the program.  Coming just a few weeks after the injury to Dinwiddie, the Buffs came in losers of four of their last five, and were seemingly in a death spiral. Then, XT took the reigns of the spastic offense against the Utes, and lit a fire under their asses.  He scored five of his 14 points in OT to help secure the win, and made four of five three point attempts on the evening.  As a reward, Talton was handed the starting point guard role, and held onto it for the rest of the year.  A truly under-appreciated performance.

Eli Stalzer - Brea, CA - Music - 

The young virtuoso has taken a back seat to other talents as the years have gone by, and has almost completely disappeared from the stat sheets.  Eli has only played in seven games this season, a limited smattering of just 16 total minutes.  There are a number of factors in this, not the least of which is the demanding scholastic schedule of a music student, along with some injury concerns.  Don't forget, however, that he was a role player his freshman season, serving as a backup point guard on a team in need of a heady hand in the second and third units.  Stalzer has played important minutes for this program, and has earned the resultant respect.
That trip to Lawrence was a learning experience for the entire 2012 class, but especially Eli Stalzer. From: Zimbio
To be blunt, Eli was never the most gifted of basketball players, and his progression slowed precipitously after his first year on campus.  A nightmare game in Lawrence that season, where Dinwiddie went out early with an ankle issue just as the game was starting to tilt, didn't help either. But, he has continued to serve an emotional role on the roster in recent years, becoming a leader away from the spotlights of in-game action.  Nothing to be ashamed of here; he's proven to be a fan favorite, and has one of the best beards in the entirety of college ball.

Best remembered for - 

Being a kickass piano player.  I can't really impart the stresses of reality to those who haven't witnessed it in person, but earning a music degree from CU isn't easy (note: I was a history major, but had a number of close friends in the music department).  There are mandatory rehearsals, performances, and dedicated practice times thrown in on top of normal class work, and don't forget whatever hours the music student puts in on in their own time to hone their craft.  Really, the extra hours put in aren't that much different from those required by Division I athletics.  In that light, there's no surprise that the schedules of the two sides to Eli Stalzer - the basketball player and the musician - sometimes came into conflict.  That Eli was able to put aside the stresses and hang with the Buffaloes on the court, while learning to master the piano off of it, is incredible.

Best aspect of his game - 

We never got to see all that much from Stalzer, so his statistical profile is limited, as a result. For the eye test, I remember him showing a strong willingness to attack off the dribble, and, with a big frame, could grab some sneaky rebounds.  Generally a jack of all trades sort of player, though.

Best game as a Buff - 3/1/14 vs Utah

Eli put in 22 minutes in this one from his sophomore year, putting up 8/2/1 against zero turnovers on the road against the Utes.  It registered as an ORtg of 257 on the KenPom scale, the second highest mark of his career.  The Buffs lost, sure, but not because of Eli.

Brett Brady - Highlands Ranch, CO - Applied Mathematics - 

Finally, I get to the man, the myth, the legend... THA BRADY. So he was a little too undersized to ever force his way onto the court, why does that matter?  He has earned the respect of his teammates by busting his ass behind the scenes, and for being one of the more gifted shooters on the roster.  He's got a deep-seeded fan following, and is serving as the team's victory cigar in blowout wins.  In this, his final season, he even has received some first half minutes, back when the team was struggling with focus and consistency in the non-conference portion of the campaign.  He's spunky, he's a great local story, and, with that applied mathematics degree, he's going to own the world at some point. What's not to love here?
Brett can kill it from three point range.  From: the BDC
Best remembered for - 

The shows he puts on in pregame warmup.  If you haven't had a chance to before, get up to the stadium early tomorrow.  Brett routinely puts on a shooting display in shootaround that would make Steph Curry proud.  Trick shots, halfcourt shots, pure jumpers from every inch of the court.  There's a reason, after all, that most of his teammates say he'd win a game of HORSE against them.

Best aspect of his game - 

That jumper, duh.  It was to the point last year that, with the Buffs really struggling to open up the offense with outside shooting, many in BuffNation wanted Brady to get some run purely as a marksman.  Not the best idea overall, but it certainly would've been interesting to watch play out as Brett can flat stroke it.  He's got insane range.  You do not want to see him stepping onto the rec league courts in a few years; he's going to own fools.

Best game as a Buff - 11/25/15 vs Air Force

Pushed into unexpected first half minutes through foul trouble and frustration from the other guards, Brett earned four big minutes against the Falcons earlier this season.  He showed well, hitting one of his two outside jumpers, and holding his own when the Buffs needed him.  What's more, it got a rise out of the crowd, and pumped the team up headed into the break.

Thank you Josh, Xavier, Eli, and Brett!  True Buffs to the end!

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