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Excitement over returning players for CU Buffs men’s basketball tempered by surrounding disaster

Buffs welcome back a number of previously quarantined players

 University of Colorado Boulder’s Evan Battey fakes CSU-Bakersfield’s Justin McCall in Boulder on December 18, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Evan Battey fakes CSU-Bakersfield’s Justin McCall in Boulder on December 18, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

At one point during practice on Friday morning, Colorado senior Evan Battey, his signature beaming grin stretched across his face, regarded his Buffaloes teammates lined along the baseline and bellowed an enthusiastic greeting.

“Dang, it’s so good to see you guys!” Battey exclaimed.

It perhaps was an appropriate sentiment throughout Boulder on Friday morning. Although CU’s senior forward was simply exuding his excitement at having a number of his previously quarantined teammates back on the floor, it was easy to picture Battey’s exclamation being exchanged among friends and family all across Boulder County.

As the Buffs got back to work following Thursday’s off day, CU’s jubilation at having the bulk of its team back on the floor following COVID issues was tempered by the surrounding disaster caused by the Marshall wildfire that decimated entire neighborhoods in Louisville and Superior.

While inside linebackers coach Mark Smith from the Buffs football team announced via Twitter his family had lost its home, CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle said no one in his program was directly affected by the fire. Nevertheless, everyone’s thoughts were with those in the athletic department who may not have been so fortunate.

“There’s a lot of people that work in Boulder and work at the university that were affected,” Boyle said. “There’s a lot of people who commute in to work and live in those areas. We’re lucky, but I know a lot of people were not. Our heart goes out to them, for sure.”

In far more positive news for the team, the Buffs welcomed most, but not quite all, of their quarantined players back to practice on Friday. CU’s COVID outbreak forced the cancellation of the Dec. 21 showdown at home against Kansas, and early this week the Buffs’ two-game Pac-12 trip through Oregon was postponed.

The first of those postponed dates was rescheduled for Monday, with the Buffs beginning preparations for a showdown against the Oregon Ducks (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks). Boyle said Friday’s workout was the first time the Buffs have held five-on-five scrimmages since Dec. 20, the day before the canceled KU date.

“I wasn’t out for too long and the transition has been smooth,” said CU sophomore Jabari Walker, one of a handful of Buffs players whose planned trips to visit family instead turned into a holiday quarantine in Boulder. “I can’t complain. The only bad part was not playing Kansas and not being able to see my family.”

The Buffs still didn’t have quite all of their scholarship players participating at Friday’s workout, but it was close. And after previously indicating the Buffs might still be shorthanded for Monday’s game, Thursday’s announcement by the Pac-12 regarding a shift in COVID protocols might change that. The Pac-12 has opted to move the mandatory quarantine time for asymptomatic players from 10 days to five, following CDC recommendations from earlier this week. That change might allow the few CU players still sidelined to return to the mix by Saturday.

Two days of practice are required before quarantined players can be cleared to play games, meaning those few who weren’t at Friday’s workout will need to participate on Saturday in order to be eligible to play on Monday.

“The guys who were back (Friday) were going to be back, because we had the Christmas break we were able to use as days for quarantine,” Boyle said. “But now the guys that are hopefully back (Saturday) may not have been back for another four or five days.”

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