BOULDER - The University of Colorado men's basketball team celebrated the 2011-12 NCAA Tournament season with its annual awards banquet attended by nearly 200 school administrators, family members, donors and fans Wednesday evening at the George Boedecker Jr. Practice Gym inside the Coors Events Center.
The men's team tied the school record for victories in a season with 24 and earned an NCAA Tournament berth after winning four games in four days to capture the inaugural Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Los Angeles.
The Buffaloes, a No. 11 seed in the NCAA's South Region, upset No. 6 seed UNLV, 68-64 in the second round, then fell to No. 3 Baylor, 80-63, two days later in the Round of 32.
Coach Tad Boyle said although he was not a fan of Gordon Gekko - Michael Douglas' character in the 1987 movie Wall Street - a Gekko quote still resonates with Boyle in his profession. "He said greed is good," Boyle noted. "Greed is good in college basketball . . . we wanted one more win."
Boyle called the 2011-12 season "phenomenal" and paid tribute to the program's four seniors. Three of them - Austin Dufault, Nate Tomlinson and Trey Eckloff - were recruited by former coach Jeff Bzdelik. Boyle acknowledged the "rough times" that trio endured through the coaching change and their willingness to make the transition work, eventually demonstrating the leadership that resulted in the conference tournament championship, CU's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003 and the program's first NCAA win since 1997.
CU's fourth senior - Carlon Brown - was recruited by Boyle and his staff when Brown decided he was going to leave Utah. Brown sat out the 2010-11 season under the NCAA's transfer rule, but practiced with the Buffs and became an integral part of the 2011-12 team.
Boyle said he would remember his second Buffs team for five key characteristics:
- Resiliency. He said this team was special in how it handled adversity and kept coming back.
- Improvement. This team, he said, got better day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month.
- Sacrifice. The 2011-12 Buffs played for each other. Willingly.
- Toughness. Boyle's best example was the Pac-12 tournament - four games in four days away from home. All wins.
- Leadership. Examples appeared almost daily, particularly in the four-day run in L.A. Said Boyle: "The longer I coach, the more I know you can't win without great leadership in your locker room."
A highlight clip featuring each of the four seniors was shown on a pair of large screens flanking the stage and podium. Boyle introduced the foursome and offered a one-word description of each before they addressed the crowd. Boyle's descriptions: Eckloff - "character," Dufault - "perseverance," Brown - "opportunity," Tomlinson - "toughness."
And Boyle felt compelled to add "honesty" to his description of Tomlinson, the hard-nosed Australian with whom Boyle admitted he "didn't always see eye to eye." But Tomlinson's candid pre-conference tourney assessment of the Buffs - to paraphrase, "We're not very good unless we defend and rebound" - might have been a prime catalyst for CU's gritty journey to the Pac-12 championship and its NCAA berth.
The coaching staff recognized all 14 letter-winners on Wednesday night, including first-time lettermen Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeremy Adams, Beau Webb and Beau Gamble.
Boyle, who has coached the Buffs to consecutive 24-win seasons and back-to-back postseason appearances, said this team has "a lot to be thankful for, a lot to be proud of. We'll continue to celebrate this year and this team . . . it set a standard."
Boyle said he will "keep dreaming and I want these guys (his returning players) to keep dreaming . . . this program is going to improve year in and year out. We've got a lot to live up to here (and) we're going to continue on the track we're on; we're going to keep getting better and better."
Among the awards presented Wednesday night were:
JAY HUMPHRIES AWARD (CU's all-time leader with 562, played from 1980-1984) 2011-12 recipient: Nate Tomlinson - led CU in assists during the 2011-12 season with 108.
STEPHANE PELLE REBOUNDING AWARD (CU's all-time leader with 1,054, played from 1999-2003) 2011-12 recipient: Andre Roberson - broke the school-record for rebounds in a season with 401, in addition to setting the school mark for defensive rebounds in a single-season with 290.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS MVP AWARD (voted by the players)
(CU's last All-American named in 1997, eighth overall in school history. In two years with the Buffaloes, Billups led the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament [second round] and in two years averaged 18.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists in 55 games played. Also made 120 three-pointers and shot 85.7 percent from the free throw line.) 2011-12 recipient: Carlon Brown - Led the Buffs in scoring in his only year with a 12.6 points per game average. Earned the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award helping the Buffs win four games in four days en route to the conference championship. Brown averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds 2.3 steals per game. He shot 50 percent from the field and scored the game-winning basket with an uncontested dunk in the final seconds against Arizona in the conference title game.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER (voted by the players) 2011-12 recipient: Austin Dufault - Averaged a season-best 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game during his senior year. Also recorded a season-high in three-pointers (23), assists (33), defensive rebounds (107), field goals made (151), attempts (311), and minutes played (975).
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER (voted by the players) 2011-12 recipient: Nate Tomlinson
MOST INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER (voted by the players) 2011-12 recipient: Austin Dufault
OUTSTANDING ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (Recognizes a senior who has demonstrated a consistently high level of academic performance during their collegiate career): Trey Eckloff
SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER AWARD (Recognizes an underclassman that demonstrates on a consistent basis a strong work ethic, performance in the classroom and has a positive impact on the academic culture of the program): Shane Harris-Tunks