Bond with Rice brings Boyle’s Buffs to Boise

A chance meeting between a young collegiate assistant coach and a high school coach on the precipice of bigger things sparked a 20-year friendship that is finding itself today at its most fruitful.

Leon Rice was an assistant at Northern Colorado from 1992-94, and during his two seasons on the recruiting trail came in contact with Tad Boyle, the head coach of the Longmont Trojans, a school a short drive north of Boulder.

Now, the pair find themselves coaching perhaps the best teams in their schools’ respective histories — Rice at Boise State and Boyle at Colorado. The two will scrimmage one another in Boise on Saturday.

“Kind of a small world, but yeah, we’ve both made multiple stops after that, become close friends,” Boyle said. “He’s one of my best friends. We can just talk as good friends, or I can bounce basketball ideas off him, commiserate after a loss or celebrate a great win.”

Saturday’s scrimmage is closed to the public and media, per NCAA rules, but Boyle came into Boise early, arriving Thursday night. He took in Boise State’s practice Friday, seeing how teams may scout his team, while also getting a feel for the Broncos.

“It’s a good chance to maybe pick up some ideas, give him some feedback on his team,” Boyle said.

Both coaches have top-25 caliber teams, with Boise State returning all five starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team, and Colorado bringing back four starters from a team that went 21-12 and reached the tournament for the second straight time. Both programs also are dealing with unseen amounts of attention and expectations — Colorado announced this week it has sold out of season tickets, and Boise State is nearing 5,000 sold after selling 3,900 last year.

“Tad Boyle is one of the guys I respect most in this profession,” Rice said. “… we share back and forth things about our programs. It was only natural we were able to get together for a scrimmage. We both open our doors, our playbooks, our ideas to each other. The idea of a scrimmage is to get better, and when you have two staffs that work together nicely, you can help each other get better.”

New NCAA rules allow teams to practice two weeks earlier than in years past, so the date of Saturday’s scrimmage is typically when a team would begin practice. Considering Colorado’s talent, and the excitement of simply facing someone new, the Broncos were looking forward to it like a regular game, with Derrick Marks pointing out that the Buffs are “basically a top-25 team.”

“It’s going to be a challenge … this will definitely help, help us see where we are,” Boise State guard/forward Anthony Drmic said.

However, don’t expect the Buffs and Broncos to face off in front of the public anytime soon — Boyle said he does not want to schedule a game against his friend. Rice has said the same about playing Gonzaga and coach Mark Few (who also was in attendance at Friday’s practice).

Boyle has seen Rice’s teams play in person during games, but had not been up close and personal like he has this weekend in Boise. Noting the upgraded facilities and the talent of the Broncos, he said the credit of the program’s growth is traced directly to Rice.

“He’s got a fantastic way with people, that’s why he’s a great recruiter, why his players love playing for him, why the fans are drawn to him,” Boyle said. “I think Leon’s a superstar.”

Boyle and some of Boise State’s coaches attended Friday’s preseason NBA game at CenturyLink Arena. Boyle coached Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks at Colorado, and Boise State associate head coach Jeff Linder recruited Portland’s Damian Lillard to Weber State while he was an assistant with the Wildcats.

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