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New head coach Rodney Billups has work to do at Denver

The first-year coach hopes to lead his alma mater to its first Big Dance

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Since deciding to join the Summit League in November 2012 and officially beginning play in the 2013-14 season, the Denver Pioneers have found success fleeting.

The Pioneers finished their inaugural Summit League campaign with an 8-6 record in conference play and a trip to the semifinals of the postseason tournament, but Denver has finished below .500 in conference play each of the last two seasons, managing just a 13-19 league record.

Head coach Joe Scott was fired after last season — his ninth with the program. Not long after, Denver did what many expected and hired Rodney Billups.

Billups grew up in Denver and played his college ball for the Pioneers from 2002-05. He led the Sun Belt Conference in assists his senior year, during which Denver landed a spot in the NIT.

Billups, who went on to play professionally in Europe, has a name that is well known around Denver for other reasons. That’s because, yes, Rodney Billups is related to Chauncey, who had two stints with the Denver Nuggets during his 17-year playing career.

This will be Rodney Billups’ first head coaching job, but he is no stranger to the sidelines. He spent the previous four seasons about 40 miles up the road in Boulder working on Tad Boyle’s staff at Colorado.

He recently called the situations at Colorado and Denver “polar opposites,” noting that Colorado’s resources as a Power Five school stretch far beyond those of Denver.

The Buffaloes made the NCAA Tournament every season except one during Billups’ time in Boulder.

That is a stark contrast from what Denver fans are used to seeing. The Pioneers have only one NCAA Tournament victory ever, and that was in 1992 at the Division II level.

Denver’s lone postseason win since making the jump to D-I came in the first round of the 2013 NIT.

Other programs at Denver have won at the highest levels. The Pioneers have won 31 team NCAA championships between hockey, skiing, and lacrosse. But that level of success has not yet been seen on the hardwood.

Billups hopes that will stay in the past and that his tenure will mark the beginning of a bright future. He said in his introductory press conference that he plans on an up-tempo offense that will invigorate the fan base.

The Pioneers will have a heap of young players on this season’s squad. None of the players on Denver’s current team were on the 2012-13 team that won the WAC regular season and made a trip to the NIT.

Denver lost three seniors from last season’s team including two of their three leading scorers in Marcus Byrd and Nate Engesser. But junior Joe Rosga, who led last year’s squad with 12.7 points per game, will be back.

Rosga spent part of his summer in Italy playing with Athletes in Action. Billups expressed hope that new competition would elevate Rosga’s game to an even higher level.

Billups’ first major task will be finding out who will join Rosga in point production.

C.J. Bobbitt, who led all Pioneer freshmen in scoring last season with 8.4 ppg, jumps out as the first major option.

Also be on the lookout for freshman Ade Murkey, who averaged 22 ppg in his senior year at St. Croix Lutheran in Minneapolis.

New textbooks have barely been cracked and practice has yet to get underway, but Billups and his staff still have a lot of planning before a new era of Pioneer Basketball begins on Nov. 12 against Jacksonville.