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September 23, 2013Basketball stars come in all shapes, sizes, strengths, weaknesses and of course, backgrounds. Perhaps that is what made the story of former Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball player Sabatino Chen so fascinating.
His prep days were spent at Louisville's Monarch High School, known for solid, yet not extremely high level basketball talent. From there, Chen took a scholarship offer to the University of Denver to play for the Pioneers.
After two years as a Pio, Chen needed a change. He was all set to transfer to Northern Colorado and then-head coach Tad Boyle.
When Boyle took his new gig at Colorado, Chen was told that he could follow him to Boulder, but no scholarship would be guaranteed each year. It was a risk. Playing time was, obviously, not a promise.
But after sitting out a year to redshirt, and playing his final two seasons of eligibility in Coors Event Center, there may not have been anyone on the team more endearing to fans. There may not have been a more unique star.
His play was characterized by hustle, a blue-collar approach to the game that inspired his teammates, coaches and fans. It also helped propel the Buffs onto the national stage, a moment or accomplishment he's not even sure he can remember starting.
"I just always thought that one way or another I would be able to contribute to this team," he said. "Coach Boyle is really the one to credit with the staff that he brought and the style and philosophy that he brought which fit with his players that he recruited and I think everything just came together."
Now that his days as a Buff are over, Chen has moved on to a new journey just as, if not more, unique than the rest of his career. He now plays with the Yulon Dinos of the Super Basketball League in Taiwan.
"I had a few agents that were contacting me once my senior season was over and I just had to go through the process in choosing the one that I thought would be best for me," he said of the process that took place, ultimately leading him to Asia. "It felt a lot like how it was being recruited out of high school. But in the end I picked the right agent and they helped me get where I am at now."
While adjusting to another level of basketball is certainly challenging, it may not compare to what he faces off of the court.
"It is pretty different but in a good way. The people there are super friendly and love Americans. The food is great," he said. "Biggest difference would be the weather, which is super humid and I am located in the city which is a lot like NYC. The language barrier is different but it isn't as bad as you think. A lot of people know English there, plus I am going to try and learn the language."
Chen said that he spent two weeks trying out for the team before getting signed, and has returned back to Colorado until mid-October.
Like leaving his alma mater, leaving home has been difficult.
"I would say I miss my friends and family the most," said Sabatino. "And of course miss just the culture and community of CU and Boulder. This community really has welcomed me and I grew up here my whole life so there will never be any place like Boulder."
There may never be another player like Chen, either. He was never the tallest, fastest, or most athletic player on the floor as a Buff. Somehow though, his presence was nearly always felt.
His heart was never questioned and his impact was never in doubt, much like how he feels about the path he's traveled over the last five years.
"I can honestly say I have no regrets about my basketball career up to this point," he said. "It has been up quite the journey especially where I started, and my time at CU has been the best time of my life so far."
Those outside of the program and fan base may remember Chen, most notoriously, for his "game-winning" buzzer-beating shot in Tucson last season. They may remember the controversy.
But inside the program and fan base, Chen leaves a much more rock solid legacy, one built on the very pillars of Boyle's program.