For just the second time since leaving the University of Colorado for what was supposed to be his dream job, Rodney Billups was back in the CU Events Center in an official work capacity.
On Dec. 10, Billups was among the nearly three dozen NBA scouts in attendance as the Buffaloes, featuring possible future NBA draft pick Jabari Walker, took on Milwaukee, led by super-freshman Patrick Baldwin Jr., who is a projected 2022 NBA lottery pick.
It was last spring when that dream for Billups thudded to an unceremonious end. With a 2-19 record in his fifth and final season as the head coach of his alma mater, the University of Denver, Billups was let go. Now, for the first time since before he became a staff member at CU more than a decade ago, Billups isn’t on a collegiate staff. For the time being, he is filling the void as a scout for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Billups also returned to the Events Center on Nov. 17, 2017 when the Pioneers took on the Buffs.
“I’ve tried really hard to stay in coaching,” Billups said. “I’ve turned some opportunities down. I didn’t get some that I really wanted. But my son was born in May, so I’ve had an unbelievable distraction. This opportunity for the Bucks came along, and I’m doing some consulting also with a few of my head coach friends. And I’m just trying to stay sharp. Getting a chance to do some consulting while I take a step back, get some perspective, has been really good. And I’ve been able to watch some of the best players in the country.
“It’s different. Being in the gym and the camaraderie in the locker room, that’s my passion. But now I have a bird’s-eye view for a team like Milwaukee to find the next best thing.”
Billups, the younger brother of CU legend Chauncey Billups, was part of CU head coach Tad Boyle’s inaugural staff in 2010-11, serving two years as the program’s director of operations before beginning a four-year run as an assistant coach during the 2012-13 season.
Following an NCAA Tournament appearance with CU in 2016, Billups made a much-hyped move to DU, where he starred as a point guard in the mid-2000s. Things began well enough, with the Pioneers posting a 16-14 record in Billups’ first season in 2016-17, but things steadily eroded from there. Overall, Billups finished with a 48-94 record in five seasons at DU, with a 23-53 mark in the Summit League. DU won only one more game over Billups’ final three seasons (17) as it did in his first season.
Not long after his ouster from DU, Billups’ first son was born. His ultimate goal is a return to coaching, but for now he is content checking out local games (Billups said he scouted Colorado State’s Dec. 4 game against St. Mary’s) with an occasional road trip in the mix (he has attended games Oklahoma State and Duke this season).
“For a long time, I was really hard on myself,” Billups said of his run at DU. “I really didn’t give myself any grace because we lost so many close games last year. We lost eight games by four points or less. I was tough on myself and blamed myself. But with COVID and the pandemic and so many things happening around the country, there were so many more important things to worry about. As a person, I really grew up. It was the first adversity of my entire career.
“Hindsight is always 20-20. Looking back on some of the decisions that we made as a staff, looking back at some of the decisions I made in recruiting, I got to see things in a different perspective and I definitely grew. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”