By Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune reporter
11:23 PM CDT, March 19, 2013
Tad Boyle is not much of a skier as winters are spent in basketball arenas and hibernating in his office in front of game videos.
Otherwise, the lure of Colorado for its hiking, golfing and bike riding and his family roots drew him back after spending nearly 20 years coaching in almost every other region of the country.
"When you reach a certain age, you appreciate where you came from more than when you're in your 20s or even your 30s," said Boyle, a Greeley, Colo., native. "Being around family and friends. The beauty of state. You can't find a better quality of life."
Maybe it's no coincidence that Boulder has been named the country's happiest city since Boyle took over the Buffaloes three seasons ago.
Living at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boyle had a personification for how rocky his start might be. But the Buffaloes quickly are reaching a consistent level of elevation.
No. 10-seed Colorado (21-11) will meet the seventh-seeded Illini (22-12) in Austin, Texas, on Friday in their first game in the NCAA tournament, marking the first time since 1962 and '63 and only the third time ever the program has earned bids in consecutive seasons.
The Buffaloes haven't seemed so promising since Chauncey Billups led them to their first tournament victory in more than 30 years in 1997.
Boyle and Illinois coach John Groce, in his first season, both were charged with revitalizing the culture of their programs.
Before Boyle, Colorado never had recorded consecutive 20-victory seasons, something they have accomplished in all three seasons for him. Before Groce, Illinois had missed three of the last five NCAA tournaments.
"Step No. 1 is you have to get your players to believe that Colorado is a special place," said Boyle, who was head coach at Northern Colorado before he came to the Buffs. "When players play for themselves it's one thing. That's what most players do. Or they play for family. If you can get their mindset to be about playing for an alumni base, the student body, playing for teammates, that's when you can turn the corner."
A glance at the teams' schedules reveals both turned around seasons that started with gloomy conference beginnings.
The Illini started Big Ten play 2-7 but won six of their last nine regular season games, while the Buffaloes started Pac-12 play at 1-4 before winning 10 of 15.
"We talk about trying to improve every day," said Boyle, who played at Kansas for Larry Brown. "If you take that philosophy, success is inevitable. We kept improving."
The Buffaloes are fueled by sophomore Andre Roberson, who ranks second in the nation at 11.3 rebounds per game. Spencer Dinwiddie leads the team with 15.6 points per game.
When Boyle saw Colorado drew Illinois as a first-round opponent, he reflected back to his childhood.
His parents grew up in the Chicago suburbs and his dad earned his doctorate degree from Illinois. Boyle frequently made trips to visit his grandparents and attend games at Wrigley Field.
Then he realized how similar Colorado and Illinois are and knew he was in for a challenge.
"When they're good, they're very, very good," Boyle said. "They have some inconsistencies just like we do. It's going to be one of those games of whoever plays the best will win."
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