BOULDER, Colo. (AP) Missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years, coach Tad Boyle said the Colorado Buffaloes decided to play in the third-tier College Basketball Invitational to get a jumpstart on next season.
With that being the case, star senior Askia Booker backed out, saying he wanted to start focusing on a pro career and suggesting his young teammates needed to learn to play without him.
Another player who's transferring, part-time starter Dustin Thomas, joined the team on the bench in street clothes when the Buffaloes beat Gardner-Webb 87-78 Wednesday night. Josh Scott, who led the way with 23 points and 15 rebounds, wished Booker had been there, too.
''I understand Askia's reasons, reasons why he wouldn't be here, why he's not here,'' Scott said. ''He's still a big part of this season. Just to have his presence. He's banged up so he wouldn't be playing, but I wish he was here.''
Booker told the Boulder Daily Camera, ''it would be pretty much selfish for me to play. I would be out there and I would want to play 30 minutes a game and compete. If the real reason why (Boyle) is playing is to get some momentum for the younger guys, they need to know what it's like to play without me.''
He didn't return a message from The Associated Press.
In Booker's absence, five Buffs reached double figures.
''I think a lot of guys have realized this is their time to step up,'' Scott said. ''I think when you lose guys like Dustin and Ski other people need to step up into those roles, you have to be more aggressive. You can't just rely on Askia to take a shot at the end of the shot clock. Let's be honest, Askia averaged 17 points per game, that's pretty good. I think a lot of our guys revel in the fact that they have to be aggressive and they can be more aggressive and it's time to pick up their games a little bit.''
Boyle said he, too, would rather have had Booker at the game, ''but Askia has to make his own decisions. He's an adult now.''
The game drew an announced crowd of 1,280. The Buffs (16-17), who play at Seattle (17-15) Monday night, say the important part about playing in the CBI is the experience, not the exposure.
''This tournament is about an investment in our future, the future of Colorado basketball,'' Boyle said. ''Contrary to maybe what some people think or believe, the future is bright. We have some good players in that locker room. This tournament is an opportunity for them to learn and grow.''
Rejecting the bid to play in the CBI would have sent the wrong message, Boyle said.
''I couldn't have lived with myself, slept at night, looked at myself in the mirror, espousing to compete and then pass on the opportunity,'' Boyle said.
He likened the CBI bid to a football bowl berth - ''you get that extra time.''
AP Freelancer Monica Costello contributed to this report.