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October 24, 2013BOULDER, Colo. - If there was a royal family of Colorado basketball, of both the prep and college ranks, there's little doubt that such a title would be given to the Billups family, headlined by brothers Chauncey and Rodney.
Both attended George Washington High School in southeast Denver, and both went on to play their college basketball close to home, with Chauncey attending the University of Colorado and Rodney taking his talents to University of Denver.
Years later, after taking two different paths for two blood-linked but different men, they find themselves at opposite ends of their respective spectrums. Chauncey is enjoying what would seem to be his last few years as an NBA player while Rodney has just begun his college coaching career, one that looks as promising and bright as his older brother's time as an NBA champion and Finals MVP. It would only make sense that Rodney remained in his home-state, at the school that has meant so much to him.
Now in his fourth season with the Colorado Buffaloes, two years as Director of Basketball Operations and now his second as an assistant coach, life is good for the energetic and relatable Rodney. When he walks into gyms across the state, especially back home in Denver where he was the primary recruiter for Dominique Collier, the Buffs' four-star point guard commit for the 2014 class, he gets the same handshakes and hugs from men and women that witnessed his ascension in the basketball world. Only now, they call him "coach."
"My responsibility on the court has changed but I've still got a lot of the same responsibilities in the office," Rodney said. "Doing scouting reports and stuff like that is good. I love it. The respect I get from guys, my relationships I have with the coaches once I got bumped up, every thing kind of felt at home. That's what I wanted to do, was coach."
Rodney admitted that there has been a learning curve, as is to be expected. Going from watching on the sidelines, but still being a part of the program, to coaching in huddles is quite the change.
"The hardest part for me is coaching at this speed," he said. "I know this stuff and I can communicate this stuff but in the midst of everything happening, it's challenging for me sometimes. I'll be fine, I'm getting it."
While he is missing two years under Boyle, at Colorado, that Mike Rohn and Jean Prioleau have, Rodney said that there were never any training wheels put on him by the headman. From day one, once he put on his whistle, it was full steam ahead for him on the court. Such freedom is far from common under most head coaches, who tend to be more demanding of ultimate and total control in their practices, film room and more.
Boyle being the opposite made quite the impression with his newest assistant coach.
"That's the ultimate respect man. We're in the office and talking and I'm giving my input and Tad's actually listening to me," said Rodney. "On the court he's giving me drills to do with the team, giving me teams to coach during certain drills. He's developing me as a coach, not just staying on my butt."
To be, essentially, put on the same pedestal as his two colleagues, both of whom have relationships with Boyle that span the better part of 15 years, has pushed Billups even further.
"He respects them to the upmost. I'm just kind of clumped in there," he said with a laugh. "What he expects of them, he expects of me too and I love it. Tad always says that one of his weaknesses is his management skill with coaches. I think that's a strength."
The timing of his return to Colorado couldn't have been written any more perfectly, for Billups. More than 15 years after his brother took the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament, CU had reached just a single Big Dance without "Mr. Big Shot". In his second season on the bench, the Buffs went dancing again, thanks to a Pac-12 Tournament Championship.
It only seems fitting to have Colorado basketball royalty in the Coors Event Center during the rebirth of CU hoops, or even, the first true birth of long term, sustained success.
He may be honored to be a part of such a process, which he is, but this isn't just the first stop on a long road towards a head coaching position. If Rodney had his way, it would be his only stop.
"I don't want to just be here for the building of it. I want to be here forever," he said. "If I could stay here under Tad and then when Tad retires, take over, that would be a dream job, dream situation for me. I'm here for the long run."
Where some coaches look for the next "big thing" or a larger, more traditional basketball market, there's nothing that Rodney values more than the roots he has in and around the Denver area.
"My family is thirty minutes away. I'm in the barbershop I grew up in every week. I don't want to go anywhere," he continued. "Plus Chauncey is going to retire, and move back, so that's even more icing on the cake."
Rodney said that there would be some effort made to integrate Chauncey back into the program he once led to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but he expects his big brother to need a few years to relax after his playing days.
As for his goals, personally, make no mistake about it, Rodney is driven to be the best. He is driven to learn, evolve and continue rising in the local and national basketball scene.
"I want to learn as much as I can from this staff through their own experiences," he said. "When I'm out on the road talking to other coaches during the recruiting period or just calling friends in the game, just learning as much as I can as fast as I can so I can be a good coach."
A vital part of the college coaching business is recruiting, as many would expect. Scheme and discipline can take a program to certain levels, but talent is always necessary to take the next step from good, or even very good, to being great.
Being a former player, there's no doubt that Rodney can spot talent in a gym when he walks in. Still, that was one area where Boyle eased him in. As the staff went on the trail for their class of 2012 targets, Prioleau was unable to travel due to having surgery on his knee. Granted permission by the NCAA, Rodney made his way onto the July trail.
"The first summer I got to see guys that they already evaluated and they just wanted my input," he said. "Now, I've gotten to the point where I'm seeing new talent and I'm bringing them to the page. I like the recruiting process and I like talking to the kids and finding out what drives them."
There aren't defined borders for each coach to recruit and scout so much as it seems to be a group effort to pour over every lead west of the Mississippi, from Texas to California. While Billups can be found in high school gyms in Denver, you might also see him down in Texas, throughout Los Angeles or even as far north as Seattle.
In each locale, Billups has a rising program to sell, to be sure, but it is what he, himself, has to offer that is often the most important to young men and their families.
"I'm selling myself as a mentor, not only as a coach," he said. "I think because I still speak the language, I'm relatively young; I can actually talk and be there for the guys. That's my biggest attribute as a recruiter. Not only that, but I've played in Europe and college, so I know what they're trying to do because I've been there. That's a strong point for me."
The Colorado Buffaloes may not yet be among the college basketball landscapes royal programs. With blueblood programs such as Duke, Kansas and more, having a fifty-year head start on them, who knows if the Buffs will ever reach that level.
But one thing is sure. With a prized man like Rodney Billups, the chances are just that much better that it could happen.