A year ago, when he left the University of Colorado to return for his alma mater for his first head coach job, Rodney Billups said his Denver Pioneers weren’t ready for a showdown against the Buffaloes and his mentor, CU coach Tad Boyle.
Denver Pioneers head coach Rodney Billups paces the court during the first half against Utah Valley Wolverines Nov. 23, 2016 at Magness Arena.
Even after a first year with the Pioneers that went better than expected, Billups still isn’t certain his club is ready for the challenge of a Pac-12 Conference team on the road. However, inspired by a 16-14 record in Billups’ first year at the helm, his players approached him expressing a desire for bigger challenges during the nonconference schedule.
That wish resulted in Tuesday night’s matchup, as Billups returns to the Coors Events Center for the first time since ending his six-year run as a member of Boyle’s staff. It also will be a homecoming of sorts for DU assistant Ricardo Patton, who led the CU program for 11 full seasons and part of another through the 2006-07 campaign.
“I’m not exactly sure if we’re ready, but my guys in the spring came to me and said they wanted to play tougher opponents just to test our team early,” said Billups, who was a standout point guard for the Pioneers more than a decade ago. “For me, to be in that building again and continue to learn from Tad — because I’ll learn from the experience — and see and compete against some athletes that I helped recruit, it’s all going to be a surreal feeling.”
While CU opened the season with a solid 15-point win against Northern Colorado, the Pioneers struggled in their opener Sunday, shooting just .333 in an 83-69 loss against UC-Irvine. Billups admitted his team may have been caught looking ahead somewhat to Tuesday night’s battle against the Buffs, where DU’s inside game will provide a different defensive challenge for the young Buffs than what they encountered against guard-heavy Northern Colorado.