Two weeks ago, once the NBA Finals and draft were final, the Ralphie Report looked at Colorado alumni in the NBA. Now, timed well with Team Colorado excelling in The Basketball Tournament, we’re looking at former Buffs who aren’t in the NBA, but play professionally nonetheless.
Since there are a lot of players playing professionally, I’ll break this down by continent. Also of note, overseas contracts tend to be one-year contracts with little security and lots of player movement, so it’s likely most of these players will be on other teams when competition starts.
Cory Higgins (2007-11) was perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated player to have starred in the Coors Events Center. During the finals days of Bzdelik, Higgins was all the Buffs had. Without much support, he was always there for the Buffs to rely upon. He was the best player on a bad team, an epithet that’s dubious to hold and nearly impossible to shed. In his senior year, the Buffs finally became a quality team, but Tad Boyle and Alec Burks received almost all of the credit. Those two deserved their share of praise, but Higgins was as valuable as anyone. Higgins finished his career tied with Richard Roby as CU’s all-time leader in points.
Higgins played a couple seasons in the D-League and even found himself playing a few NBA games with the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats. Since 2013, Higgins has heavy minutes with B.C. Zenit of Russia, Gaziantep of Turkey, and CSKA Moscow of Russia, respectively. With Zenit in 2013-14, Higgins was the VTB United League scoring leader with 21.5 points per game. This past season with CSKA Moscow, he helped them to a EuroLeague Championship.
Carlon Brown (2011-12) had an outsized impact on Colorado basketball despite only playing one year in Boulder. Brown was a vital piece of the 2012 Pac-12 Champions, and while he wasn’t their best player (though he was Pac-12 Tournament MVP), they wouldn’t have made that magical run without their primary offensive catalyst.
Brown was undrafted out of college, as 23-year-old prospects are wont to do, but he had a fair chance at playing in the NBA. He signed with the Golden State Warriors, but was cut a week before the regular season started. Brown spent the 2012-13 season in the D-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors and Idaho Stampede before moving overseas. Brown spent 2013-14 in Israel with Hapoel Tel Aviv, 2014-15 and 2015-16 with Brose Baskets and Ratiopharm Ulm, both of Germany.
Austin Dufault (2008-12) is best remembered for his central role on that 2012 Championship team. With range out to the three-point line and a deft game inside, Dufault was arguably the most consistent offensive player on the team, so he was naturally a go-to scoring option when the going got tough. He was undersized for the center, but with André Roberson playing next to him, it didn’t seem to matter. Being only 6’9 with mediocre athleticism, his NBA chances were always scarce. He went overseas directly out of school and has spent time playing in Czech Republic, Germany, Macedonia, France, and, most recently, Finland, where he started for Salon Vilpas. As we speak, Dufault is competing in The Basketball Tournament (TBT) on Team Colorado.
Marcus Relphorde (2009-11) transferred from Saint Louis University, so his playing time for the Buffs was limited, but his game wasn’t. In his two seasons here, he manned the power forward position and brought athleticism and outside shooting to a team that needed someone to take the pressure off Cory Higgins. Relphorde played in the D-League for a few months before heading to Europe, where he’s played for a myriad teams. He currently plays for Falco KC in Hungary and is also on Team Colorado for TBT.
Levi Knutson (2007-11) is cherished in Boulder, and I know you would pick him over George King in your All-Star team. Knutson is deservingly beloved, for he was as consistent and clutch as a marksman can be. Knutson doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or a Ryan Koenigsburg feature (Dufault had an interview) like his peers, so I can only confirm his most recent team, which was the German squad Chemnitz in 2014-15. I don’t believe he’s playing professionally this upcoming season, but he is still playing with Team Colorado.
Marcus Hall (2004-08) played before I knew what basketball was, but going off box scores and watching D-League videos, he appears to be a unique player Colorado was lucky to have. Per Koenigsburg, Hall played six years overseas and, inspired by former CU roommates Chris Copeland, moved stateside to the D-League with NBA hopes. Unfortunately, Hall never got the phone call and has since moved back to Europe to play for Afyonkarahisar Belediyespo in Turkey. Hall is yet another representative of Team Colorado — you would think I wrote my notes with Team Colorado’s roster in the next tab over, ha ha — and has been far and away their star player.
Richard Roby (2004-08) is another player I’m too young to remember, but his accomplishments at CU are impossible to miss. In four years for the Buffs, Roby was the lifeblood of the offense. His 2,001 career points are tied for first all-time (Roby played 13 games less than Higgins), he tops CU with field goals and three-pointers made, and he’s top ten in both assists and rebounds. Roby had legitimate NBA chances, but he never got a chance. Instead, he’s starred in nine different countries on four different continents. He most recently played in Japan with the Akita Northern Happinets and is currently on Team Colorado.
Sabatino Chen (2011-13), like Marcus Relphorde and Carlon Brown (and hopefully Josh Fortune), is an unforgettable transfer. His first role in the black and gold was as a defensive specialist for the 2012 Champions. As a senior the season after, Chen was instrumental in the team’s success as a team leader and defensive stopper. His lasting image will be his buzzer-beater to beat undefeated Arizona on the road that inexplicably didn’t count. Chen moved to Taiwan and found an immediate niche with a similar role as he had at CU. He dealt with injuries
and bullshit for a while, but has since reclaimed a starting spot with the Fubon Braves.
Nate Tomlinson (2008-12) was never a go-to scorer or dynamo energizer, but he was always there to lead the offense and play lockdown defense. After finishing his college career on top, Tomlinson went back to his home of Melbourne to play in the National Basketball League; Tomlinson was essentially raised in NBL locker rooms as his father was a head coach in the league. In three seasons in the NBL, he has gone from backup guard to NBL Most Improved Player of the Year (2014) to captaining Melbourne United.
Shane Harris-Tunks (2009-13) never played much at CU, partly because of various knee injuries and partly because of the crowded frontcourt. No matter, his presence on the team was memorable. Harris-Tunks has since retired, but he played a season with the Wollongong Hawks (now Illawarra Hawks) of the NBL and the Hobart Chargers of the second division SEABL.
Askia Booker was always a divisive player, but no one represents the program as well as he does, metaphorically. (If you want to skip ahead to see where Booker is now, it’s in the very last sentence of this section.)
As freshman, the brace-faced, afro-wearing Booker was instrumental in that 2012 Pac-12 Championship as he provided a momentum-shifting spark off the bench seemingly every game. At the same time, us fans were all Freshman enjoying the highs of success (pun very much intended) hoping they would last but not expecting much. In his sophomore and juniors, Booker’s game matured tenfold, and he became a player to be feared, even though he was mostly in a supporting role. Us fans, like ‘Ski, were becoming used to the success, and as his shot against Kansas cemented his reputation, the victory legitimized the program and its fandom.
As a senior, Booker expected to lead the Buffs to greatness, but as he pump-faked his way up the record books, he and the team withered under the pressure. Disappointed with the lack of success, the fan base found Booker to be an easy target (perhaps appropriately), for he was a high-volume, low-efficiency shooter egregiously showcasing selfishness over selflessness. It didn’t help Booker’s case that the locker room was reportedly divided when he, the senior leader, should have united it. He left the team after a disappointing performance in the Pac-12 Tournament that capped off a lost season, much to the dismay of the fans.
Meanwhile, as Ted Chalfen noted in his longform piece in February, fan support fell drastically as the crows of the CEC were lacking in size and passion. (If you’re reading offseason basketball, I assume you’re a dedicated fan who showed up and cheered positively.) Like Booker, we had experienced success, sustained it, and when we were expecting more and instead found struggles, we peaced out. The basketball team has since rebounded, as has fan support.
Booker, too, has rebounded, as he’s pursuing his NBA dream. ‘Ski was drafted 10th overall in the D-League draft and played last season with the Bakersfield Jam (now called the Northern Arizona Suns) and is currently on the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League team.
Others to Note
Dwight Thorne II (2006-10) followed up a great Colorado career with several solid seasons overseas. He is retired from playing, but is still heavily involved in the game. Thorne was the Directors of Men’s Basketball Operations at Georgia Tech, but he recently followed Rodney Billups to the University of Denver (the reverse Sabatino) where he will serve in the same capacity at he did at Tech.
David Harrison (2002-04) was Goliath. In his junior year at CU, the 7’, 280 lbs. center averaged 17.1 points, 2.9 blocks (he had 3.3 the season prior), and 8.8 rebounds. Harrison was a major NBA prospect, so he forewent his senior season at declared for the draft, where he was selected 29th overall by the Indiana Pacers. Harrison soon washed out of the NBA as his off-the-court issues eventually followed him onto the court. He played in China and the D-League before retiring due to financial struggles in 2013. In 2015, Harrison signed with the Las Vegas Dealers of the newly founded AmeriLeague, but the league folded after the founder was revealed to be a con-artist.
Shannon Sharpe (2010-12) played sparingly for CU before transferring to D-II Cal Poly Ponoma, but, in the words of Jack Barsch, is a forever Buff. Sharpe doesn’t seem to have played professionally after finishing his college career, but he’s still playing with Team Colorado and moonlighting in the Drew League with tenacious dunks.