FORT COLLINS, Colo. — “He’s an amazing ambassador for CSU.”
On a day where the Rams secured their 20th win of the regular season by sweeping a local rival, the fans in Moby Arena got to experience something bigger than basketball.
Starting with the pregame festivities, where CSU’s three seniors, accompanied by their loved ones, strolled to mid-court and paused for photos with Niko Medved, while the Ram faithful welcomed them with cheers of appreciation. Then ending with the veterans leaving the court to a much-deserved standing ovation — everything on Saturday was about honoring the careers of Nico Carvacho, Kris Martin and Hyron Edwards Jr.
While Martin and Edwards have certainly put together respectable careers of their own, and were rightfully included in the spotlight, in particular, Saturday was an opportunity for the Ram faithful to embrace Carvacho for potentially the final time at home.
One of the greatest big men to ever don the green and gold, Carvacho has grown from a baby-faced redshirt freshman in 2016-17 to the face of CSU men’s hoops three years later.
Beyond his accomplishments on the court, which are impressive — Carvacho is the program’s all-time leader in games played, he’s top 10 in all-time points scored, and has so many rebounding records that his head coach said he can’t even keep track of them anymore — what makes the versatile center’s career so unique is his dedication to the CSU Rams community.
There’s no greater example of this commitment than the special bond Carvacho has developed with Bryce Krisl, a 7-year-old diehard Colorado State fan from Littleton, Colorado.
On Feb. 25, 2017, CSU defeated San Diego State on Emmanuel Omogbo’s buzzer-beater in front of a packed ‘Orange Out’ crowd. Most remember the night for the students storming the court and Omogbo’s emotional reaction to sinking the game-winner after tragically losing his parents the year before.
Lance Krisl, a season ticket holder and the father of young Bryce, remembers the night as the start of an unlikely friendship between a future superstar and a little boy whose life would be forever changed.
Bryce, who was 3 years old at the time, was just beginning to appreciate the beauty of basketball and to the approval of his mother, Melissa, was now allowed to accompany his father at the CSU games.
During the competitive contest against Steve Fisher’s Aztecs, Bryce became infatuated with Carvacho because he was the tallest player on the court, which excited the little Rams fan. After pestering his dad to try and meet Carvacho for much of the game, once the chaos of the court storm had calmed, Bryce was able to get his first photo with No. 32. It would be far from his last.
Over the last four seasons, Bryce and Nico have become two peas in a pod. When the Rams run out of the tunnel for pregame warmups, Bryce can be seen standing at the edge of the court, waiting to welcome the team and dap up his favorite player. When CSU players exit the floor, regardless of the outcome, Carvacho will look for Bryce so that he can scoop the little man into his arms and maybe raise him up high like Rafiki lifting Simba for all of Pride Rock to see.
“He’s an amazing ambassador for CSU,” Lance Krisl said of Carvacho.
The two have become so close over the years that when Bryce had to have surgery this past summer, Carvacho sent him a video encouraging the little hooper to be brave and told Bryce that everything would be just fine.
“I mean that was just awesome,” Krisl said.
When Bryce invited Carvacho to his birthday party last summer, within minutes the big man texted back that he would not miss it. To this day, Bryce says that Nico coming to his birthday party is his favorite memory with his surrogate older brother — though he did not use that exact phrasing.
On Saturday, Bryce’s friendship with the Rams legend culminated with the 7-year-old accompanying the Carvacho family on the court for the pregame Senior Day celebration. With a smile on his face and a few tears running down his cheeks, a young Bryce got the opportunity to soak in one last moment with his idol.
“That’s my little man. He’s just been there since day one,” Carvacho said of the decision to include Bryce.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that asking Nico for a picture would eventually turn to this,” Krisl said of his son’s friendship with Carvacho.
“All the kudos to Nico. Between practice, games and all the traveling, these student-athletes are amazing. So for him to find the time for Bryce means so much.”
Krisl explained that he’s well aware it’s not always easy to have an interactive conversation with a young child, which is why it’s so incredible to him that Carvacho has always been attentive and locked into every interaction he’s ever had with Bryce. As the son of a coach, though, Carvacho doesn’t view it as a big deal because he knows just how big of an impact he can make on the young man’s life.
Both before and after Saturday’s contest with Air Force, Carvacho talked about how when he was growing up, getting to interact with older athletes was something that he greatly looked forward to. And because of these past experiences, it’s important to Carvacho to give back all these years later.
“People come up to me all the time and they will be like: you’re my favorite player,” Carvacho said on Thursday. “It means a lot to me so I just want to give it back to them and show them that I appreciate them for believing and staying with me.”
Much like his unique friendship with Bryce, nothing about Carvacho’s career has been ordinary. In 2016-17, Carvacho was a young buck on a team that only featured seven eligible scholarship players by the midpoint of the season. The group managed to finish second in the Mountain West.
One year later, as a redshirt sophomore, Carvacho had to deal with a myriad of distractions off the court as the coaches that recruited him were ultimately dismissed for the way they ran the program. Sadly, neither has reached out to Carvacho to congratulate him on his accomplishments since.
With a new coach in 2018-19, despite battling a shoulder injury that later required offseason surgery to repair, Carvacho was able to lead the Rams in scoring and pace the nation in rebounding.
Now in his final season, Carvacho was able to be a leader for a young Rams team that has outplayed all preseason expectations and brought life back to the program — something the senior center and coaches are all extremely proud of.
“Nico’s mentality has been about being really unselfish,” Medved said on Thursday. “He’s maybe taking less shots but he’s been encouraging the young guys to be who they are.”
Years from now, when the seasons begin to blur together and the records just become figures in a history book for future generations of hoops writers to reference, what will stand out about Carvacho is the way he carried himself through the highs and lows. In a five-year period where CSU men’s basketball became synonymous with the transfer market, Carvacho was one of just two players to spend his entire career with the Rams.
Sure, Carvacho could have pursued the major offers he received post-Eustachy. But because he chose to stay and cemented himself in the Rams community, the Big Chile will forever be cherished by those that bleed green and gold.
“My feeling as a coach is that if a kid stays in our program, I would hope that if we’re doing it right, they would feel like their experience in this program changed their life,” Medved said.
Medved continued that it may not be something that the seniors truly appreciate until they leave and reminisce back on their playing careers — but the relationships that they’ve made through this process will positively impact them for the rest of their lives.
For Carvacho, one of those relationships is with Bryce Krisl.
“I hope Bryce grows up to be just like him,” Lance said. “I think any parent would want that for their kid.”
Even though Carvacho’s days in Moby are numbered, Bryce says he will continue to cheer for his favorite team. At this point, though, the competition for his favorite CSU player of all-time is set in stone.
“Bryce will still wear his jersey and he’ll still root for Nico,” Lance said. “He’ll cheer for all these other guys because there are a lot of great people in this program but it will forever be Nico.”