BOULDER — Evan Battey had a rough night.
Early in the second half of Saturday night’s 81-74 win over Stanford, Battey stole the ball in his defensive end and charged up the court with only one man between him and the basket, Stanford’s star forward Oscar da Silva.
When Battey reached the free-throw line, da Silva stepped in front of him with his hands held high, attempting to draw a charging foul. Battey tried to put the ball up for a layup but da Silva tied the 265-pounder up.
Stanford’s undisputed leader and Colorado’s emotional leader locked arms and neither of the 6-foot-9 behemoths was able to brace himself. Battey’s eyes were closed but he felt his elbow hit da Silva in the face before they both slammed into the ground under the basket. Battey lay where he was for a few seconds, da Silva’s arm draped over him. The officials called the foul on da Silva.
“I was emotional. I’m a big dude,” Battey said after the game. “I saw his reaction and the way he was landing and I just broke down.”
Colorado point guard McKinley Wright IV ran toward the basket to check on Battey, but the Buffs’ emotional leader wasn’t hurt physically, just shaken by da Silva’s injury.
“I looked over and, seeing Oscar’s head bleeding and his eyes starting to roll back into his head, I just got down on my knees and said a prayer,” Wright said.
Battey was emotional the rest of the night; when he joined his team and da Silva’s for a prayer at midcourt before play continued, when he went to the locker room to let his emotions out before he returned to the bench, when his mom joined him in the locker room because he couldn’t stop hyperventilating, when he received a standing ovation as he returned to the court for the first time since the collision, when he drained a 3-pointer three minutes later, when he shook his opponents’ hands after the game with tears streaming down his face, when he sang the school song, when his mother embraced him again on the sideline and when he took the podium at the post-game press conference.
Those tears are what make him special.
“I’ve known Evan for three years now and he’s got the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met, including my family,” point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “I’ve never met someone with a heart like his.”
Forget the 13 points and the four assists and the rebounds and the frustrating fouls he didn’t deserve and the fact that he only missed one shot all night; what made this game the hallmark Evan Battey game was the new way his heart was broadcast throughout the CU Events Center.
“Everybody came together for Evan,” forward D’Shawn Schwartz said. “We were playing for something bigger than basketball at that point. It was a tough game and we knew Ev’ was emotional about the whole play. We wanted to get that win for him.”
We’ve seen Evan Battey’s heart before, but we’ve never seen this side of it.
Battey’s emotions are easy to read. He pounds his chest after put-back layups. He’s obnoxious on the bench when he cheers for his teammates. He soaks in the love when he earns standing ovations, and he earns them often. His face is expressive. His smile is infectious. That’s why it’s so easy to mistake his emotions for our own.
It’s easy to mistake his journey for our own, too. The kid who came back from a stroke to contribute to what could become one of the best eras in Colorado basketball history. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t have to elaborate because you’ve all told the story yourself to you friends, your kids, your parents and strangers. It’s the story that makes us fall in love with sports. It’s the embodiment of what being a Colorado Buffalo is supposed to mean.
The story feels like it’s ours to tell because he’s shared it with us the same way he’s shared his emotions on the court and his thoughts in media scrums off of it. Nothing is hidden. He’s raw.
That vulnerability was twisted in a way that it was never supposed to be twisted on a basketball court. The low points are supposed to be missed shots and losses. Battey’s over-feeling heart wasn’t ever supposed to know he was one-half of a collision that caused the scary scene Saturday we saw night.
But what makes Evan Battey who he is, is that he didn’t shut his emotions out. He didn’t suck it up for the sake of sucking it up. That would be ingenuine. He was upset, so he cried, even when he was running up and down the court.
A team’s emotional leader doesn’t shut out emotions just because they aren’t the ones he wants to be feeling.
And his emotions didn’t hold him back. In the same way that Battey seems to produce in the biggest moments when the crowd is supporting him the way it can only support him, Battey produced when he felt pain only a heart as big as his can feel, Saturday night. With tears in his eyes, Battey scored seven more points on four shots and dropped a pair of dimes.
“I don’t know how we played when I went into the locker room. I don’t know how Stanford played,” Battey said.”But I know how I played, and I played for Oscar.”
Twenty years from now, when it comes time to explain what Evan Battey meant to the Colorado Buffaloes to the next generation of Buff Nation, start by setting the tape from Saturday’s game to the 16:35 mark in the second half and pressing play.