If UCLA coach Ben Howland had taken a different approach with Spencer Dinwiddie two years ago in the recruiting process, it's likely the Colorado point guard would be starting for the Bruins Saturday when they make their first trip to Boulder since 1962 instead of having to face him.
Plenty of coaches saw the potential that Dinwiddie is beginning to fulfill for Colorado when he was a member of a strong Taft High School team in Woodland Hills, Calif. At 6-foot-6, Dinwiddie had a rare combination of the vision and ball-handling skills of a point guard and a sweet stroke from the perimeter. But Howland chose to slow play Dinwiddie knowing Dinwiddie liked the idea of playing his college ball close to home.
When UCLA coaches heard Dinwiddie might be close to committing to play for Colorado and coach Tad Boyle, Bruins coaches scheduled an in-home visit and suddenly developed a sense of urgency he hadn't seen from them before.
“It felt like they didn't have a vision for me,” Dinwiddie said Thursday after he helped the Buffs beat USC, the school for which he grew up cheering. “They talked about me playing multiple positions and trying to fit me into their system. When coach Boyle talked to me in recruiting, he was like, 'I want you to be the guy.' So that is a very different message that a 17-year-old is hearing.
“I just don't think it was the right fit, and also I wasn't a primary option for (UCLA). That's definitely no secret. They wanted other people ahead of me and I wanted to go someplace where I felt wanted. CU offered that.”
Midway through his sophomore season, Dinwiddie is looking like the Buffaloes best player, which shows how far he has come in a relatively short period of time. He's even beginning to surge ahead of junior teammate Andre Roberson, one of the nation's leading rebounders and a key cog in Colorado's NCAA tournament run last year.
Dinwiddie is one of a handful of California products whom Boyle is building a resurgent program around in Boulder.The Buffs are a big challenge for UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins go to Boulder 13-3 with a perfect 3-0 start in Pac-12 play. CU is 39-4 at home since Boyle took over as coach before the 2010-11 season.
Dinwiddie's offensive numbers won't blow anyone away. He's averaging 14 points and three assists and has been inconsistent at times. But his defense is turning heads.
“I think he's going to be an NBA player,” USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. “I think he's a great player. He's a great kid. He needs to develop strength and get tougher and stronger and all that, but he's a very good player who has a chance to be an all-league player and a player at the next level.”
Boyle began routinely assigning Dinwiddie to the opponent's best perimeter player this season and with the exception of a poor performance at Kansas, Dinwiddie attacked the job. Boyle said he Diwiddie took his defense to another level early this season helping the Buffs win the Charleston Classic when he held his own against Dayton's Kevin Dillard, Baylor's Pierre Jackson and Murray State's Isaiah Canaan.
“Against each one of them he was terrific,” Boyle said.
Dinwiddie will likely find himself matched against one of UCLA's two leading scorers Shabazz Muhammad or Jordan Adams Saturday when the Bruins visit Boulder for the first time as a conference foe.
Dinwiddie says he approaches every game the same and doesn't necessarily feel any different when facing USC or UCLA, the Pac-12 schools nearest to his home. But he also admits it would be a bonus to have a big game against either one of those teams each time he faces them. It has been more than a month since he has scored 20 points in a game. He could be due.
“I think Spencer is going to be a great player,” Boyle said. “I'm pleased with where he is. He's an underrated defender in our league. He doesn't get enough credit for the job he does night in and night out on, a lot of time, the best perimeter player. He's making better decisions. I love him. I wouldn't trade Spencer for any point guard in the league, not one of them. But there is still room for improvement in his game physically and mentally.”
Colorado assistant coach Rodney Billups, the younger brother of Los Angeles Clippers veteran Chauncey Billups, said the next step for Dinwiddie is filling a leadership void for the young Buffaloes. Six of Colorado's top nine players are freshmen or sophomores.
Billups said Dinwiddie is learning how to lead and hasn't handled every situation well this season. For instance, prior to a game against in-state rival Colorado State in December, Dinwiddie referred to the Rams as the Buffs' little brother. But Dinwiddie followed up by having a career game against CSU scoring 29 points in Colorado's win.
“We've asked him to score and be more aggressive offensively, which is coming natural to him, but probably the most unnatural thing for him is leading,” Billups said. “I think that is probably the biggest improvement for him. He didn't have to lead last year, but this year he kind of has to.”
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