The story of the 2013-14 Colorado Buffaloes basketball team begins April 30th, 2011, the day Spencer Dinwiddie officially signed with the Buffs. The story of this team ends on January 12th, 2014, the day Dinwiddie tore his ACL on that cursed court in Seattle.
If you look at all the best teams that Tad Boyle has coached in Boulder, Dinwiddie is the common denominator. The Buffs had great players around Dinwiddie — Andre Roberson, Carlon Brown, Josh Scott, etc. — but for a Boyle team to be great, they need a do-it-all point guard to facilitate the offense and control the game. Focusing on defense and rebounding can only be so successful if you don’t have a guard capable of elevating the offense.
With Dinwiddie at the helm, this 2013-14 team was probably the best in modern CU history, at least since Chauncey Billups. They had great shooters in Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson, a terrific defensive center in Wesley Gordon, the criminally underrated two-way play of Josh Scott, and of course Dinwiddie holding everything together. The only thing this team lacked was depth, and it’s tempting to imagine this team had Roberson stayed for his senior year. But no matter, this team was terrific, likely the best we will have seen until McKinley Wright leads the 2019-20 Buffs.
Colorado started the season with a loss to #25 Baylor, but they only lost once more in between then and January 12th, and even that loss was Marcus Smart’s #7 Oklahoma State. Between those dates, the Buffs pulled off arguably the most important win in program history when Askia Booker’s iconic buzzer-beater knocked off the Kansas Jayhawks. That game showed us that these Buffs could compete with anyone — Dinwiddie could be the best player on the floor even with Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins playing, Booker and Johnson could hit those tough shots, Scott could skillfully outmaneuver even the most talented bigs, and, last but not least, reserves like Ben Mills could step up at critical moments and outplay a future NBA superstar.
In celebration of basketball season officially starting tonight, I give you Askia Booker's shot - screaming cowboy edition. pic.twitter.com/pnzmigsSJa— Ted Chalfen (@TheGhostofMarv) November 10, 2017
After that win, the Buffs continued their impressive run with a thrilling 100-91 victory over Oregon, who was then 13-0 and ranked 10th in the nation. Kansas was proof that the Buffs could beat anyone; Oregon was proof they were a legitimate team that other teams needed to fear, especially in the Keg. It was also encouraging the Buffs could survive (or thrive) in a high-scoring game and that Dinwiddie and Booker could light up the scoreboard when they needed to.
On January 12th, the Buffs were 14-2 and ranked 15th in the nation. They were only getting better and they were learning what it takes to win on the road. On that fateful day, CU was beating up on the Washington Huskies in Seattle, but then, as you know, Dinwiddie ran the fast break and twisted his knee on a non-contact play. He crumbled to the floor, his ACL torn, CU’s hopes and dreams dashed. Had he stayed healthy, CU absolutely would have made the Sweet Sixteen at the very least, and I will die with that opinion.
Without Dinwiddie, the Buffs lost at Washington and finished 9-9 in their final games. They made the NCAA Tournament by the strength of their early season success, but only as an 8-seed. Their first round loss to Pitt was traumatic and therefore repressed. Dinwiddie declared for the NBA Draft and went 38th overall to the Detroit Pistons. The returning team looked promising, but 2013-14 wound up as the most painful season of the Boyle era. CU would have to wait until at least 2018 for a team like the one Dinwiddie led.
Meanwhile at Folsom Field, the Buffaloes went into the 2013 season with a renewed energy after replacing Jon Embree with Mike MacIntyre, the former San Jose State coach who in three seasons turned around the Spartans from 1-11 to the 25th ranked team in the nation.
With MacIntyre came a recruiting class that featured Sefo Liufau, Phillip Lindsay, Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson, Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross, Jimmie Gilbert, Kenneth Olugbode Addison Gillam and Jonathan Huckins. Recruiting classes in a coach’s first season on campus are usually a dead period, and this looked like no exception as the class was ranked 68th in the nation. (For context, Rutgers and Kansas were ranked 48th and 49th.) In hindsight, however, this was one of the most important classes in CU history, and at least the best since Gary Barnett was at the helm.
It’s easy to wonder if the Rise would have even happened without all those players thrown into action as freshmen on this 2013 team. It doesn’t really matter that the team went 4-8 on the season with their only wins coming over Colorado State, FCS Central Arkansas, FCS Charleston Southern, and California. These young players were thrown into the fire and forced to learn from their mistakes. Sure, that defense allowed nearly 40 points and 500 yards per game, but the lessons Awuzie, Thompson, and (Freshman All-American) Addison Gillam learned were invaluable for them to grow into one of the best defenses in the nation in 2016.
Likewise, Sefo Liufau was supposed to redshirt that year, but was forced into action when all other options — looking at you, Connor Wood — proved futile. Liufau was always going to make mistakes, but he was in a healthy position to learn on the fly, as he had Paul Richardson and Nelson Spruce there to make him comfortable. (Can we please appreciate Paul Richardson more? Dude was ridiculous. He had 83 catches for 1,343 yards and 10 TDs, all with Wood and freshman Liufau throwing to him. And he threw a touchdown pass to DD Goodson against Oregon.)
In short, it didn’t matter that CU football was still awful and that they were still losing games 59-7. This season was about MacIntyre instilling a new culture and letting the young players develop. This season was about growth and building the foundation of the Rise.