BOISE — It figures to be a special moment tonight at Taco Bell Arena when Boise State coach Leon Rice and the Broncos honor the senior class at midcourt prior to the final home game of the season vs. Nevada.
But for Rice, this is no ordinary senior class. He’s saying goodbye to three players — Ryan Watkins, Jeff Elorriaga and Thomas Bropleh — who were the first three players he signed after becoming the head coach four years ago.
“They’ve meant so much to this program, not just this team,” Rice said. “The whole vision when we took over of what we wanted and what we wanted to build here and the types of kids we wanted to bring in and how they’ve represented us — all those things are so important to the program, and individually what they’ve done this year. … these guys mean so much to our team and our program.”
The trio has won 75 games during their time at Boise State and helped the Broncos receive their first at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament last season. Another postseason appearance — likely the NIT — appears probable in the coming weeks.
“We’re basically the building blocks of this program, you know?” said Bropleh, who has stepped up his scoring in recent weeks and tied a career-high with 20 points to help the Broncos dig out of an early hole and beat Wyoming on Saturday. “Jeff basically symbolizes the program because of his hard work, how he came in as a walk on and played as a freshman and averaged 30 minutes during the WAC (play), that’s unheard of.
“Ryan, how he’s continued to develop each year and now he’s getting a chance to start and be a major contributor. And just being good citizens and good role models off the court. … We’ve had a good run here, all three of us.”
Watkins has made the most improvement since signing with Boise late in the summer before his freshman year. The 6-foot-9 forward averages 11.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and has tied the school record with 14 double-doubles.
The senior needs one rebound tonight to become the first player in Mountain West history with 200 points and 200 rebounds in one season.
“(The records) haven’t really hit me yet,” said Watkins, who is four points away from 1,000 in his career. “I just want to win games. If I put up those numbers but we don’t win, it doesn’t really matter. … It’s been great because I think we’ve stepped up when the team needed us. We wanted to have big years and help the team, which I think we’ve done.”
Bropleh has been a solid contributor off the bench since he was a freshman but has seen his production — and playing time — rise in recent weeks. The guard is averaging a career-best 7.4 points per game is shooting 49.7 percent from the field.
Elorriaga started the season as one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation but has battled an injury to his back and has seen limited minutes in recent games. The former walk on is averaging 7.2 points per game this season.
“It’s bittersweet,” Elorriaga said. “I know all good things come to an end. I certainly won’t miss these injuries, but it will be an emotional day. We really want to win our last home game. For me, Ryan and Thomas, it’s been quite a journey, being coach Rice’s (first)recruiting class. It’s coming to an end, but we feel we’ve had a good four years.”
Boise State has won four of its past five games entering the matchup with Nevada. Wins in their final two games of the regular season would give the Broncos no worse than the No. 4 seed in next week’s Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. today and tickets remain.