William Whelan - for AllBuffs. BOULDER, Colo. – More than three years ago, after the first basketball practice of the 2011-2012 Colorado Men’s Basketball season, Askia Booker answered a question that I had asked him, about being under appreciated and under recruited due to his size. He said that while he was grateful for the opportunity presented by the Buffaloes and head coach Tad Boyle, people had always told him that he would have been at a “bigger school” had he grown just another inch or two. Continuing the idea, he admitted that if he had those extra inches, he “probably wouldn’t be here.” Those were sobering, yet honest and possibly true comments from the 6-foot-1 shooting guard from Price High School in Los Angeles, where he often played second fiddle to Skyler Spencer and Allen Crabbe, at least in the media and on lists like the Rivals150. Who would have guessed that going into his senior season, ‘Ski would have a chance to cement his place among the most accomplished players to ever don the Colorado uniform. Top ten in points. Top ten in steals. But the one category that Booker takes the most pride in, and so should those that have both staunchly defended or detracted his unpredictable on-court demeanor (and production), is this: Wins. With hopes high in Boulder for another run towards the NCAA Tournament, he has a chance to finish with the most wins of any Colorado player ever, and become the only one to appear four times in the Big Dance. Now, I think it’s important to say that his comments to me that day were in no way, shape or form meant as disrespect to the school that gave him a chance to compete at the Pac-12 level. He has always been appreciative of the chance that Boyle took on him, and the venue he was provided to display his talents. It’s just that he, nor many others in his circle back in southern California, saw Colorado as a destination for college hoops. When talking about big-time college basketball out West, just about every school not named Oregon State belonged in the discussion, or at least had reason to be on any given year. Colorado was seen as a “good fit” for guys like Booker, who flew under the national radar thanks to their size and inconsistency at keys club events over the summer. This is why it’s easy to see why the two, Booker and Boulder, have made for such an explosive pairing. They both were so similar three years ago, and have become even more similar as the years have passed us all by. The stories of Colorado basketball’s troubled past have been written, and written, and written once more. It’s become the trope narrative whenever talking about the job Boyle has done since arriving in town from Northern Colorado, where he took (literally) the worst Division I team and turned it into a winner. Jeff Bzdelik was well aware of the limitations Colorado offered a coach, and so he secured some of the groundwork needed to turn things around in Boulder. Quite frankly, he never wanted to be at CU; he left at the first quality opportunity provided him. Coach Boyle is the complete opposite of his predecessor, a bit more fiery and emotional both on the sideline and everywhere else. The story of Askia Booker is no less known, particularly after the Daily Camera’s Brian Howell authored his poignant profile on Booker a year ago. Growing up in the inner-city, Booker was exposed to all of urban society’s ills, short comings and treacherous temptations. Through basketball, he found a way to navigate his own path, to author his story and own his future. Like Boyle, Booker doesn’t always succeed in hiding his emotions. There are times when he pouts, shouts back at coaches/teammates, swears under his breath or gets caught up so deeply with an individual match up on the court that his decision-making takes the team out of rhythm. It’s not as if he doesn’t realize this, or that he is thrilled about how he handles things. But he and his coach realize that at some point, it’s time to call a spade, a spade. Tad talks much less about controlling Askia and much more about managing him, just as he has talked about managing his own stubbornness and trying to keep it from biting his team, program and staff in the collective ass. He talks not about controlling expectations through the media and donor base, but managing the expectations of his own locker room. He lets his players be themselves, whatever that means to each one individually. For Askia, it’s about his flavor. His style. His bravado. His killer instinct and willingness to let it all fall on him, regardless of the outcome. Around 2007, there was a subtle shift in recruiting southern California. Schools had started to become disillusioned with some of Los Angeles’ top talents, largely due to the drama that seemed to follow them wherever they went. Of course, there were plenty of exceptions, but nonetheless, the landscape had a cloud over it as dense as the afternoon smog. Scouts and coaches called LA-kids “prima donnas,” and scoffed at the handouts, sunshine pumping and entitlement the players received from hustlers and street runners throughout the region. The 2009 class, featuring names like Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt, Renardo Sidney and the Wear twins—this of course ignores the presence of Solomon Hill and Kawi Leanard because, well, they did just fine for themselves—was the culmination of the pervasive negativity directed towards southern California prospects and the behavior of the players themselves. Ben Howland at UCLA was just about done with the local talent pool, and schools like North Carolina and Duke (who had snatched up more than a few in recent years) were just about done catering to the Hollywood nonsense that was required, if one wanted to recruit SoCal. Along came Colorado and Tad Boyle in 2010 and 2011, ready to enter the Pac-12 Conference and make a name for their program. Boyle knew that if they were to compete with the likes of Arizona, UCLA, Washington and the Bay Area schools, they’d need to find themselves a few gems from the Basin. The Buffs did just that. In Spencer Dinwiddie, CU got the nuance of a heady, intelligent but uber-confident lead guard with the skill set and physical tools to back it up. Dinwiddie was polished both on and off the court, taking a lead role immediately upon his arrival. In Askia Booker, as Boyle liked to say at the time, the Buffs got their own energizer bunny. When Ski would enter the game, as the team’s sixth-man his freshman year, things always got a bit more frantic, a bit faster, and a bit more exciting. For all of Dinwiddie’s greatness, and there was a lot of it, Booker made his own mark and with a different style. Booker brought his own version of Hollywood to Boulder with his rowdy behavior on the court, edgy demeanor in practice and electric physical ability. Teammates and coaches alike so often said, “We go as ‘Ski goes.” As Booker’s final season in Boulder continues to creep closer and closer, he finds his story nearing its conclusion. The memories and moments that will live on forever in the hearts of Buffs fans are secured: Leading the team in scoring his freshman year for two NCAA Tournament games, MVP of the Charleston Classic, hitting the game-winner against No. 6 Kansas a year ago in Boulder. He doesn’t need any more validation, but yet he seeks it still. There is a drive in his head that constantly tells him that he’s still under appreciated, under valued. It’s what keeps him in Coors Event Center until the early hours of the morning working on shooting drills and ball handling. It’s his obsessive complex about reaching his full potential, because that will lead the program he now represents to its full potential as well. It’s almost too much responsibility for one player, but it’s the path he’s been on since he arrived. Coaches at CU knew they wouldn’t have Dinwiddie complete his eligibility in Boulder, as they suspected his NBA future early on. The same wasn’t said for Booker, who never really possessed the size to player his role in the NBA. He was always going to be the last man standing here; there was no other fitting way for this story to unfold. After Colorado took down UNLV in their first NCAA Tournament game in 2012, the trio of Andre Roberson, Carlon Brown and Booker sat in front of the media answering questions. ESPN’s Andy Katz asked Roberson about the ride that team had been on, winning the Pac-12 title and then overwhelming UNLV in Albuquerque. Then a reporter asked Booker if he could have imagined scoring 16 points in his first tournament game, as a true freshman. Before he could answer, Brown interrupted. “He knew damn well he’d be right here,” Brown said of Booker. “Don’t let him tell you any different, he knew.” Perhaps that why the relationship between Boyle and Booker is so intrinsically tied together with the rise of the Colorado men’s basketball program. In one way or another, both of them knew this is where they’d be going. Both of them were more than aware of the doubters, those who said they were too small, to unconventional to break onto the scene as real contenders and threats. Yet here they are, like bulldogs in the ring ready to snatch off your gold chain, chuck it into the crowd and play as dirty as needed, so long as it results in you on the mat, tapping out relentlessly. Colorado basketball will never be Kentucky. Booker may never be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. What they will indeed be has yet to be written. It’s the one story involving the pair that hasn’t yet been exhausted to the point of cliché. None of us know how this last season of Boulder’s odd couple will unfold. Whatever happens, though, Askia Booker will undoubtedly leave town feeling as though he was under appreciated, under valued. Boyle will still feel like his program isn’t there yet, that there’s more work to be done. That’s what makes them distinct, singular in their drive and intensity. In this story, it’s what makes them both Buffs, and whether we like it or not, one in the same.