With the order now set and the NBA Draft looming in June, prospects across the nation are gearing up for team workouts, combines and camps to workout in front of NBA scouts. But while most are hell bent on making it to the League, others are trying to carve out a professional space elsewhere. And for Northern Colorado senior Devon Beitzel, just having the option to continue his hoops career is a blessing in itself.
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Devon Beitzel doesn’t want your labels. It’s nothing personal; he just doesn’t. So while the media this season was fixated on pinning him in the same undersized super-scorer box as his BYU counterpart, Jimmer Fredette, Beitzel was busy making his own mark on the college game. And after leading the University of Northern Colorado to its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth with nearly 22 points a game, the 6-1, 180-pound senior is definitely deserving of a solo spotlight.
“I can’t stand it truthfully,” says Beitzel about the numerous Fredette nicknames he’s received this year. “I just think it’s ridiculous. I mean, I like to hear that I’m being compared to him and to have people see that our game’s are similar. That’s cool to see, but the nickname, “Little Jimmer” or “Jimmer Junior,” ugh, not for me, man.”
He doesn’t say this with an ungrateful tone, and certainly not one of cockiness, but with self-confidence. Sure, the similarities between both players are there – big-time scorers, unfazed by pressure and will unabashedly shoot the rock from anywhere on the floor – but as with Beitzel’s wishes, this isn’t about Jimmer; it’s about Beitzel.
In actuality, he’s a pretty humble guy that appreciates just how far he’s come to get to this point; Academic All-American, national top-15 scorer and a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. But to start with the Colorado native, you first have to understand more about his journey. Unlike much of his competition, he didn’t grow up worrying about what shoes MJ rocked or how many dimes Jason Kidd dished out; in fact he didn’t grow up studying basketball at all.
“Truthfully, I didn’t really watch basketball growing up,” he says. “Whenever a game was on, instead of watching it, I’d go to the park and play.”
The hoop was his blacktop sanctuary. When things got tough at home, that’s where he’d head to escape – to the game. With a rough upbringing and very unstable parental influences, Beitzel took it upon himself to move away from his own surroundings at age 14 and into that of his best friend’s family – a place where he still calls home. That’s a pretty big decision to make at such a young age. But with one parent struggling through past addictions and another one battling in and out of prison, he didn’t want to get lost in the fray of being another statistic. Yet through his off-the-court issues, he somehow remained focused and determined for the future. It’s a story that Beitzel has now seen inked in countless pages online as he and the Bears were beginning to make strides in the Big Sky Conference this past winter.
“The biggest reason I didn’t mind having (my) story go out there (to the public), was because I feel like there are a lot of kids out there in similar situations,” says Beitzel. “And just to see someone kind of thrive out of adversity, to give them hope and give them some sort of direction, to just show that as long as they keep working hard, they can make something of themselves.”
With a new home life and eventual scholarship to newly anointed Division I Northern Colorado in 2006, Beitzel thrived. Five years later, and the reigning Big Sky Conference MVP and Tournament MVP has excelled on all cylinders of university life. Beyond his hoops deftness, Beitzel’s also commanded a 3.7 GPA and has already locked up a job auditing at Ernst & Young after school ends. Although, it’s doubtful he’ll be hanging up his laces for that of a permanent button down and tie any time soon.
“Before this year, I never thought that basketball would really go anywhere after college for me,” he says candidly. “I knew that getting good grades and doing the work in the classroom would open up my options professionally. Being able to accomplish that (Academic All-America) and have that on my resume for after basketball will be great for me.
“I’ve definitely surpassed what I thought I was going to accomplish in my career; both as an individual and as far as our team goes.”
After bumping his scoring average from just over 14 a game last season to that of 21.5 this year, Beitzel’s been able to help bring a renewed interest in college basketball to Northern Colorado. He’s also quietly become one of the state’s most potent scoring machines in recent memory. And in the Bears’ only Tournament game against No. 2-seeded San Diego State, Beitzel casually dropped 25 with six three-pointers in an unfortunate early exit loss. But, in doing so, he made his presence more readily known on the national stage on his way to capping off one of the best individual single-seasons in school history.
Now the future is wide-open for Beitzel. He figures to gain some interest from different leagues and teams, but from where, he’s uncertain. It would be easy to count him out, but that’s not how Devon sees it. Remember, the kid’s confident. Hell, it’s gotten him this far already.
“It’d be interesting to see if I get the opportunity to play against (the nation’s elite guards),” says Beitzel. “A lot of them are probably quicker and more athletic than I am, but I’ve always felt like I can play with anybody. I think if nothing else, I could hold my own against them.”
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