BOULDER - Until Tuesday morning, Mike Rohn never had seen Trent Beckley make a move in the low post or defend someone else trying to do the same. Fact is, Rohn knew virtually nothing about Beckley except what little he had gleaned from off-court chatter emanating from some of Beckley's former Colorado teammates.
But during a 2-hour plus practice at the Coors Events Center, particularly in the latter stages as he worked the Buffs' big men, Rohn made a pleasing discovery:
"He's got size, got a body. We still don't know that much about him, but he really brought some energy at my end with the big guys . . . he wanted to compete."
Coaches never can get enough of that, and that's primarily what Trent Beckley wants most in his second (and final) time around with CU - compete and contribute. If he's able to do both, well, he and his coaches will consider this unexpected comeback a success.
At 6-foot-10 and about 235 pounds, he's big enough to be an inside presence for a team that opened the season without Shane Harris-Tunks, who was large (7-feet) and quickly becoming legitimate. Knee surgery ended Harris-Tunks' sophomore season before it began.
But let's be honest; Beckley's story is compelling, but it's not a fairy tale. He and Rohn know he's not the answer to CU's lack of size inside. If things work out, though, Beckley can be of short-term benefit to the Buffs. He's got a semester of eligibility remaining and finally appears free of the reactive arthritis and lower back ailments that cost him his junior season (2008-09) and frustrated him enough last spring to make him leave his home state (he's from Vail) and turn his thoughts inward.
"I was really hurt with that disease last year . . . it took 40 pounds off of me and I was in bed for four or five weeks," said Beckley, who in three seasons as a walk-on from Battle Mountain High School (17 points, 11 rebounds as a senior) had played in 17 games at CU. "I needed time to collect myself and figure out what was best for me in the work life . . . I was just so frustrated with my health issues."
He got a job offer last spring for a front-office position with the Colorado 14ers, recently purchased by the Dallas Mavericks, and believed he could finish the spring semester taking on-line courses. But he "never got around to it" and eventually left Colorado for a personal trainer's job in Texas, which allowed him to get back in shape, play in pick-up games in the Dallas area with former Buff Dwight Thorne II and ponder his future.
Eventually, Beckley's love for Colorado and knowing he was so very close to getting his degree - he plans to graduate in May with a major in finance and minor in political science - drew him back to Boulder. And since he was back, how about another run at hoops?
He didn't know how he might be received by CU's new coaching staff, but some veteran players had been talking Beckley up to assistant Jean Prioleau. Contact on Beckley's behalf was made through a team manager/close friend about three weeks ago and a meeting was arranged with Coach Tad Boyle and his staff.
Beckley wasn't a stranger to any of CU's returning players from the Jeff Bzdelik era or the support staff. Beckley had texting best bud Levi Knutson "almost daily," keeping in touch with what was happening off the court as well as trying to watch or listen to as many games as he could. When he arrived in town he immediately took up residence with seniors Cory Higgins and Javon Coney.
Sophomore forward Austin Dufault remembered Beckley from last season's practices as "a big, physical kid who'll work hard every day. Just the attitude he brings will help us - if not in games, then definitely in practice. And that's something that'll help us prepare for the big guys in the Big 12 we're going to face. He can definitely have an impact on our team."
Strength and conditioning coach James Hardy called Beckley "a good weight room guy" whose work ethic there matched what he showed on the court. "I'd like to have a bunch more like him."
Beckley has no illusions about immediate playing time, meaning he'll be watching from the bench Wednesday night when CU plays Western New Mexico at the Coors Events Center (7 p.m.). If he's ready to contribute something, anything, in two weeks he will satisfy his personal time line.
"I still have to learn the offense," he admitted, "but it's not as complicated as the old offense (under Bzdelik). There are similarities and over five years you kind of pick up offenses quickly. I would say two weeks before it comes, but I'd say the role I had before - playing hard, running the floor, getting rebounds. But I am more confident in my offensive game now, too."
Added Dufault: "Offensively it might take him a little while. We've played 12 games and we're starting to play well as a team. For him, it'll be about watching film and catching up. There'll be a little bit of a learning curve, but defensively he's a hard worker and that'll make up for a lot of things."
Beckley knows his role, at best, will be that of a role player. If he can develop into something more than a practice player and even become a "five-minute, five-foul" contributor on game night, Beckley would be "100 percent satisfied."
At any rate, Rohn is anxious to see where this goes.
"I don't think he'll be a guy we run plays to and try to establish on the block," he said. "But in our offense he can be good for us screening, ball screening for our perimeter guys and getting to the rim. That's what we would see him as. I think he knows his game; he's not a guy who feels like he has to go out there and get 10 shots . . . he's just happy to go do the little things - and for us, that's what we need. We need a presence, a screener, a physical guy like that. If he can catch it, not turn it over and run plays the right way, I think he could help us.
"But shoot, you never know, as time goes on in the Big 12, just another big body can certainly help. Hopefully, he has much energy in four weeks as he did (Tuesday). We'll see how well he post defends and rebounds . . . if he can do those things really, really well, then we might be able to use him."
More than anything, though, Beckley wants his unexpected reentry to enhance, not disrupt.
"This is a team that has chemistry now and I'm not the one to come in and feel like anyone owes me anything," he said. "I'm here to make Ben (Mills) a better player, make Trey (Eckloff) a better player. That's what I do: I play hard. And if they're not playing hard, they're going to see me playing hard. That's going to help the team. I feel great about the team . . . if I don't play a minute, I'm glad to be a part of it."