When Chauncey Billups, one of Colorado's greatest players, was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks, the Buffs lost one of their strongest supporters.
That disconnect had been reconnected. Colorado will be visiting Billups' new hometown. The Buffs earned a spot in the NIT semifinals and a trip to New York City with their 81-74 victory over Kent State Tuesday night in Boulder.
"He's excited and ready to see us," Rodney Billups, Chauncey's younger brother and Colorado's director of basketball operations, said after the quarterfinal victory. "He'll be at our games."
Colorado will face Alabama in Tuesday's semifinal at Madison Square Garden. The other semifinal will match Wichita State and Washington State. CU is making its fourth trip to the Big Apple for the NIT and its first since 1991.
The Buffs (24-13) were a top seed in the 32-team field and their three victories have somewhat removed the sting of not hearing their name called on March 13 when the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced.
"I thought it was criminal (Colorado) didn't get into the (NCAA) Tournament," Kent State coach Geno Ford said.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle said the NCAA snub, is "going to be with us the rest of our lives, especially our seniors ... I don't know if it takes the sting away, it refocused us. But it hasn't taken the sting away from me.
"We're going there to win the tournament and not to just be happy to be in New York. It means everything going back to where we were on (NCAA Tournament selection) Sunday and what the goal of these seniors and this team has been since that day."
After failing to be one of the 37 at-large teams selected for the NCAA Tournament, Colorado could have allowed that disappointment to influence their NIT play.
"We can get more satisfaction out of what we're doing now," senior Cory Higgins said "If we can win this tournament, we'll have no regrets whatsoever. ... To end our careers like this (with an NIT title) would be a dream."
Sophomore Alec Burks has been outstanding. In his six postseason games - Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship and the NIT - the 6-6 guard is averaging 25.5 points on 57.4 percent shooting from the field.
Colorado defeated Kent State without starting junior point guard Nate Tomlinson, who suffered a left shoulder separation in the second-round win over California. Tomlinson said he hoped to be ready to play in New York. Also, for the Kent State game, several players were battling the flu. Burks had to get an IV at halftime.
"We're showing everyone we should have been in the (NCAA Tournament)," Burks said. "I feel like we're a tough team, so we just bounced back from the disappointment."
Past, present, future
Colorado is its last season as members of the Big 12 Conference and will join the new Pacific-12 Conference on July 1. For the Buffs' men's and women's basketball teams, success after the Big 12 Championships in Kansas City earlier this month brings some interesting opponents.
As mentioned, Colorado has advanced to the NIT semifinals in New York City and will face Alabama. Interestingly, one of the Crimson Tide's top players is freshman guard Trevor Releford, the younger brother of Kansas sophomore Travis Releford.
While that is about the past and present, the Colorado women's team won at Wyoming Thursday night to advance in the WNIT. They'll host a quarterfinal game at 1 p.m. Sunday against ... Southern California, one of CU's future Pac-12 partners.