Yes, Rodney Billups is kin to that other Billups—the one with five NBA All-Star Game appearances and an NBA Finals MVP award. (Still clueless? We’re talking about Chauncey Billups, the best basketball player Denver has ever produced.) But Rodney put together a respectable career himself: An all-conference guard at the University of Denver, Rodney played professionally in Europe before joining the coaching staff at the University of Colorado Boulder as the director of basketball operations in 2010. Now DU has hired Billups as its men’s coach and tasked its alumnus with leading the Pioneers to the NCAA Tournament—a party to which the team has never been invited. We spoke with Billups about creating a stir around Pioneers basketball, the stresses of coaching, and (of course) his big brother.
5280: In 2012, DU men’s basketball averaged more than 5,000 fans at home games. Last year, the crowd had fallen to 1,675. How do you bring people back to Magness Arena?
Rodney Billups: By playing fast and getting some energy into the building—running, dunking, having fun in transition. I think that will attract a different brand of fan.
That’s a big change from last year, when DU finished last in the Summit League in scoring.
Last year, they employed the Princeton offense, which takes up a lot of time and might not put up a lot of points. But we can build on the stuff they did and add some things that we were successful with at CU. The older players are excited, but I think they’re a bit nervous, too. They played in so much structure last year under the Princeton offense that they are now worried about making mistakes. The excitement is there; they just have to figure out how to play fast.
With that style of play, you’re going to need to get some athletes. How will the Billups name help you in recruiting?
Chauncey can go anywhere in the world and be relevant because of his 17-year NBA career. Being able to tell recruits, “Hey, Chauncey might be at the game; Chauncey might come to practice and watch and evaluate and let me know what he thinks about your game”—I think that speaks volumes about what we have to offer as a staff. And I didn’t
have a shabby career. I can for sure relate to what these kids are going through.
Is there a part of you that views this as your chance at the spotlight?
I think about that often. It’s not about competing with Chauncey. Chauncey is always going to be my best friend. We always support each other’s endeavors, and it’s not a competition. This is something I’m doing that he’s not. The world of coaching is crazy. I don’t know if he’s going to jump into it. I advise him not to.
Why is that?
Because he doesn’t have to take on this stress. His life is great now. He can support his kids and be the great father that he is. He doesn’t have to watch film at night and wake up in the morning and deal with the athletes and take on all these different personalities. But he’s stubborn and wants to get back. So we’ll see if he wants to coach or work in a front office during the next couple of years.
So you’re already feeling the stressors of coaching?
With the start of the season so close, I’m starting to, due to recruiting, the players starting school, dealing with coaches, and, on top of all that, preparing for the season.
Is your ultimate goal an NCAA Tournament berth?
That was the emphasis in my interview. I want to do something that no one has ever done and help the student athletes do something they never thought they could do.
The Pioneers begin their season on November 12, at home, against Jacksonville University.