You could describe Jeff Elorriagas college basketball career as a series of fortunate events.
A timely phone call from an assistant coach at a rival high school helped him land a walk-on spot at Boise State. Two made 3-pointers in his first college game helped cement minutes on a team that needed a shooter. An influx of younger players in need of a leader helped secure his spot as a sophomore.
So, yes, you could describe Elorriagas unlikely rise from walk-on to starter, from bit piece to key contributor as fortunate.
But those around the Boise State mens basketball program have a much different explanation: hard work.
Its just every day showing up to work. Hes just a team guy, a glue guy. He always wants to work. He does everything for the team, junior Thomas Bropleh said. Jeff is our emotional leader. He just carries us. He understands what it takes as far as playing on both ends, especially defensively where he gives it his all every day in practice.
Said coach Leon Rice: Jeff has certainly earned everything hes got here.
Elorriaga a 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior and the undefeated Broncos (3-0) face their biggest test of the young season Tuesday night at No. 15 Michigan State (2-1).
Elorriaga, the Broncos leader in minutes, is third on the team in scoring (9.3 points per game). His game keeps expanding, from spot-up 3-point shooter to more of an all-around player.
Elorriaga set a career-high with 10 rebounds in Sundays victory against Louisiana. He also had three steals. In the Broncos victory against Oakland, Elorriaga played 37 minutes defending the Grizzlies top scorer, Travis Bader.
Bader shot 3-for-15 from the field and 1-for-8 from 3-point range and Elorriaga scored a career-high 17.
He never loses concentration, said Rice, who was familiar with Elorriaga because he recruited some of his Jesuit High teammates in Portland when former Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier got a call asking if Elorriaga might be able to join the team. Theres a level of trust we have in him because of it. Thats really uncommon. Hes a great example for these other guys. He doesnt do it with talent. He does it with toughness, with showing up every day and thats what makes him a great player.
Elorriaga went 2-for-2 from 3-point range in his first game. He played in 55 more in his first two seasons and earned a scholarship this spring.
It means a lot. I worked hard for it. Im thankful the coaches gave me the opportunity, he said. Its really special.
He hasnt stopped working.
Before the season, Rice stressed that he needed more production from Elorriaga, particularly given the number of minutes he was going to be on the floor. In his final nine games of last season, Elorriaga did not score in double figures. He averaged 6.0 points and 2.4 rebounds as a sophomore leader on a Bronco team with seven newcomers.
I wanted to make sure I wouldnt force it. There were opportunities when I should have shot the ball more or drove, Elorriaga said. Ive got to be able to set my shot up with the drive, look to attack.
In three games this season, Elorriaga has been more aggressive, averaging nearly seven field goal attempts per game. His 4.3 rebounds per game are more than he averaged his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.
Noticeably bigger, Elorriaga said he spent a lot of time trying to get stronger so he didnt get bumped off drives and was able to get to the rim more often. The same guy who was so nervous during his first game that he was sweating once he got on the floor is still developing that self-assuredness on the offensive end. Boise States assistant coaches are always stressing to him to play with confidence.
Youve got to be confident. Do it with confidence, he said. Trust that its going to go in.
Trust in Elorriaga is not an issue. The former high school quarterback is the unquestioned leader of the Broncos, the guy Rice leans on in any number of situations.
I dont have to go to each one and say were in this, were in this, were in this. I can tell Jeff and hes getting them in it, Rice said. Thats kind of an example of what a glue guy does.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph