By: Nick Bernal
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Heading into the 2008-09 season, the Colorado men’s basketball team was looking for new leadership to replace senior standouts Richard Roby and Marcus Hall.
It came as no surprise to anyone who followed last year's team that sophomore Cory Higgins stepped up and took over the role. As a freshman, Higgins displayed the talent and attitude of a seasoned veteran.
That's not unusual considering his background. He grew up around the game. His father, Rod Higgins, played in the NBA for 13 years and is good friends with Michael Jordan - who also happens to be Cory’s godfather. Rod currently serves as the general manager for the Charlotte Bobcats, which is co-owned by Jordan.
Cory is not shy about using his father's connections. This past summer Cory had the opportunity to train in Charlotte with Bobcats players, coaches and select college players (including Davidson All-American Stephen Curry) and with Jordan himself.
“Definitely, just watching some of the guys and picking things up from them is an advantage, especially if you’re able to add those things to your own game,” Higgins said. “Coach Dave Hanners (Bobcats assistant coach) was the main guy that helped me over the summer, I worked out with him a lot and he really helped me improve.”
Higgins believes that his time with the Bobcats will help him become a better player on the court and more professional off the court.
“It’ll help me a lot,” Higgins said. “When you work out with great athletes who have great work ethic, you can see what they’ve done and how hard they’ve worked to get to where they are at. It really makes your workouts easier because they work so much harder (than you realize).”
One of the things Jordan was known and admired for was his incredible work ethic. He was never content with where he was or what he had accomplished — he always wanted more. Jordan took pride in proving people wrong and turning his weaknesses into his strengths. He did this through intense preparation, something Higgins is trying to emulate.
“I probably prepare the same, but the results are very different from last year,” Higgins said. “A lot of that has to do with the summer and what I learned there and just being a year older. I can use all the experience I gained to answer questions some of my teammates might have and to lead by example.”
That is exactly what head coach Jeff Bzdelik and his staff need from Higgins this year. With only one senior (Jermyl Jackson-Wilson) and one junior (Dwight Thorne II), the team needed leadership from younger players.
“Cory has really improved, he’s built up his body and he’s improved his skill,” Bzdelik said during the pre-season media day. “Cory spent a great portion of his summer with the Charlotte Bobcats and I remember going to the pre-draft camp to watch Richard Roby. Michael Jordan was there and Rod Higgins and Cory and I sat with them numerous times to watch Richard.
"To have the opportunity that Cory had to hang with Michael, and to be in the gym with him on a daily basis coupled with Cory’s drive to be the best player he wants to be, he has improved a lot.”
Higgins’ talent, leadership and experience earned him one of the three team captain positions this season, and he has relished in the role.
“I know just the other day we were scrimmaging, and for the first time we had defense out there and in a five minute stretch Cory hit a three, had a drive, had a layup off movement and had a post up,” Bzdelik said. “He scored in all four regions for the court in various ways. It shows his versatility.”
Higgins saw the summer camp with his father and Jordan as a valuable learning experience.
“I wanted to go to learn and see what type of camp it is,” Higgins said. “Sitting and watching with them, you really notice how much they concentrate on the small things. They want guys who can come in and be role players, guys they can give a specific job to and they can do it.”
He has already proven to be one of the Buffs’ most valuable players, and has shown his ability to take over a game. In the second half against rival Colorado State, the Buffs trailed 40-32 with 16 minutes left to play.
That’s when Higgins took over. He proceeded to score 28 second-half points en route to a career-high 33, leading his team to a 75-56 win. His 28 points in the second half is the third-most scored in a half in CU history. Making that performance even more impressive is the fact that he was 9-of-10 from the floor, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, and 7-of-7 from the free throw line. Higgins also had three steals.
Higgins hopes that the Buffs will be able to show continued improvement as Big 12 Conference play starts in January.
“As a team, I want to at least have a winning record,” he said. “Individually, I don’t have any statistical goals. I just want to do whatever I can to get us to where we need to be.”
When asked specifically about his time around Jordan this summer, and what stuck out the most, Higgins responded, “while I was at the camp, he said ‘don’t ever think that you’ve made it.’ That really stuck out to me.”
Knowing that he hasn’t “made it” serves as Cory Higgins' motivation and inspiration.