It was the opportunity Riley Grabau had been craving since he packed his bags and left his hometown of Boulder for the great unknown in Wyoming.
However, in a collegiate career in which so far nothing has come easily, the game Grabau has had circled on his calendar since he first joined the Wyoming Cowboys proved to be a letdown.
Now a regular in the Wyoming starting lineup after serving an apprenticeship during his freshman year that was long on courtside education yet short on playing time, Grabau finally was going to enjoy an opportunity to take on his hometown Colorado Buffaloes.
Grabau's Cowboys were undefeated when CU visited Laramie, Wyo., on Dec. 1. The Buffs, for their part, were ranked 19th and sporting a 6-0 record. Yet Grabau's hopes of showing his hometown team just how far he had come were waylaid when he was forced to limp off the floor after 9 minutes of action (and zero points) due to a knee injury that would sideline him for the next two games.
If it was a more than a minor disappointment, Grabau doesn't admit it. Quickly resuming his role in the Cowboys' rotation, Grabau notes that the important thing about that night against CU was that Wyoming ultimately earned the win.
"It was hard because I'd waited to play in a big game, and that's what that was," Grabau said. "But I enjoyed the win and I have no regrets about the CU game. I wish I could have gotten more time, but all that matters is the win."
Collecting wins became commonplace for Grabau two seasons ago when, as a senior, he led one of the greatest boys basketball seasons in Boulder High's history. Grabau sparked the Panthers to a 25-3 mark and a berth in the Class 5A state title game, where they dropped a heartbreaking four-point decision to Regis Jesuit, despite 26 points from Grabau.
The sweet-shooting guard averaged 19.8 points and 4.7 assists that season for the Panthers, but Grabau was jolted back to basketball reality last year during his first year in Laramie. Grabau appeared in 21 games as a freshman, scoring just 19 points the entire season while making only 6 of 20 field goal attempts.
Grabau, though, never complained and worked dutifully at improving -- traits that made an impression on Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt.
"There are a lot of pieces to Riley," Shyatt said. "He's a great shooter, but there's so much more there. He's shown something a lot of young guys don't have, and that's patience.
"A lot of kids in that generation, if they don't have their Twitter or social media right away it's (a problem). He had to wait a full year for his chance. He did that, and I respect him for that as well."
His learning season behind him, Grabau has become an essential cog on a team that earned a No. 25 ranking before suffering its first loss of the season last week against Boise State.
Grabau helped the Cowboys bounce back from that defeat by reaching double figures for just the third time in his career in a win Saturday against Nevada, scoring 12 points on a career-best four 3-pointers. Grabau is averaging 6.3 points and will be a key factor as the Cowboys vie for the Mountain West Conference championship.
"I think last year was a test of my ability," Grabau said. "I knew what coach Shyatt was doing. He told me to be ready when my time came. I think that was the biggest thing -- having the ability to have patience and keep in mind my time would come. My time is coming now, and if we keep on the same track it will be a good season."
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