Bob Lutz

Boyle finds hoop success back home

From the earth-shattering news department: Recruiting basketball players to Northern Colorado is different, and quite a bit more challenging, than recruiting players to North Carolina.

Roy Williams just has to point his index finger at the best high school players in the country and they become mesmerized by his spell.

That's not how it works at Northern Colorado or at most places, where the inexact nature of recruiting becomes a test of evaluation and patience.

"I don't think we've out-recruited people here,'' said former Wichita State assistant Tad Boyle, who in his fourth year has had a breakthrough season at Northern Colorado. "But we've out-evaluated people.''

Boyle can't chase the same players bigger schools can. If he does, he'll be out of a job because he won't land them.

So he has to fine tune. While bigger schools cast a net, Boyle hones in on his targets, studies them and waits for them to become productive.

The reason Northern Colorado is 21-6 is because Boyle took a couple of chances after he got the Northern Colorado job on May 1, 2006.

Recruiting was pretty much finished by then. Only table scraps were left, but Boyle, who coached on Mark Turgeon's staff with the Shockers for six years, needed to find help for a team that had lost 67 games the previous three seasons.

Boyle looked in-state and found a couple of guards: 5-foot-9 Will Figures from Centennial, Colo., and 6-1 Devon Beitzel from Lafayette.

This season, Figures (16.5 ppg) and Beitzel (14.3) are the Bears' two top scorers and a testament to the kind of player evaluation Boyle knows is so important.

It was much the same at Wichita State, when Turgeon and Boyle were able to find players the big boys didn't want.

"Randy Burns is a great example,'' Boyle said. "He wasn't recruited and people in Houston, where he's from, didn't even know who he was going into his senior year.''

Burns became a key player in Wichita State's turnaround under Turgeon and scored 1,599 career points.

"You have to find kids who fit your style and personality,'' Boyle said. "I didn't foresee that Figures and Beitzel would become the kind of players they've become here. I knew they were good high school players, good kids with good work ethics.''

Boyle's first Northern Colorado team was 4-24. Getting through that season was a test.

The Bears were 13-16 in 2007-08, though, a drastic improvement.

"I really thought last year could have been our breakout year,'' Boyle said.

Instead, Northern Colorado took a small step back, to 14-18. Boyle was concerned the window of opportunity was closing.

"It was like at Wichita State the year Jamar (Howard), Randy and Rob (Kampman) were all seniors,'' Boyle said. "We didn't quite get it done. But the next year, we won the Valley after being picked fifth and went to the Sweet 16.''

Northern Colorado bolted to a 7-0 start this season, then lost by a point at Oklahoma on Dec. 19. The Bears trail only Weber State in the Big Sky standings and have increased attendance from around 500 per game during Boyle's first season to 2,394 in a 3,000-seat arena.

Plus, Boyle is coaching in his hometown of Greeley, which is also where his wife, Ann, is from.

"It's been fun, even though the process hasn't always been fun,'' Boyle said. "Going 4-24 in our first year wasn't fun. And we still have work to do, a lot to prove. But the journey has been great and it's been nice to start something from scratch and watch it develop and grow. A lot of people deserve the credit.''

Boyle, 47, knew he was ready to be a head coach after working for Turgeon, his friend since their days as players at Kansas. They talk or text often.

"Mark helped prepare me and he gave me a lot of responsibilities when I was with him at Wichita State and Jacksonville State,'' Boyle said.

Boyle worked wonders with Wichita State's big men — Paul Miller, in particular — during his time at WSU. But he was ready to run his program, his way.

"It's a matter of grinding it out and finding players,'' Boyle said. "The longer I've done his, I think character and toughness are the two biggest intangibles that I look at. That's what counts the most.''