Boise State guard Elorriaga: Tough kid, bright future

The senior battles one more injury as his Boise State career nears its finish.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comMarch 13, 2014 

LAS VEGAS - Jeff Elorriaga's days as a basketball player are numbered - and he's fine with that.

Considering all the injuries he's racked up at Boise State, it's not a surprise. The fact he has even made it to this point is shocking.

How did a 6-foot-2 guard who had hardly a sniff from NAIA schools find his way into the Broncos record book? It had little to do with athleticism and everything to do with toughness, will, intelligence and emotion.

"It doesn't add up," Boise State coach Leon Rice said. "It's what we talk about as coaches all the time, it's intangibles. He's maxed out those intangibles."

Even if the Broncos can make a postseason run, which got a start with Wednesday's win in Las Vegas at the Mountain West Tournament, Elorriaga knows he only has a few games left.

Fellow seniors Thomas Bropleh and Ryan Watkins harbor hopes of playing professionally, but pro ball doesn't have much of a market for a guy like Elorriaga, especially not one who has a broken bone in his back, and sometimes practices with a padded helmet because of lingering concussion concerns.

"I'm going to miss it a lot - except for the injuries," Elorriaga said. "I'm going to really enjoy these last few games, then it'll be time to move on. I've got to make the most of it while there's time. I'm at peace with it, I knew it would come to an end eventually."

It's that willingness to persevere through a multitude of injuries that has earned Elorriaga a special place at Boise State. Through a broken nose as a freshman, a fractured thumb as a sophomore, a concussion last season, and that broken bone this season, Elorriaga has played in 114 games. His 215 3-pointers are third-most in school history, as is his career shooting percentage of 42.5 percent from outside.

"Jeff basically symbolizes the program because of his hard work," Bropleh said.

After he hit the floor hard on his back Feb. 1 at UNLV, Elorriaga missed two games. He played only two minutes in his return Feb. 12 against New Mexico, but Rice was emotional afterward, saying "he's literally broken his back for this program."

Six days later, Elorriaga came off the bench to score nine points at Colorado State - and took two charges.

"He's got a broken bone in his back, and he's still playing as hard as he can for as long as he can," Watkins said. "The things he does never ceases to amaze me. What he gives to this team means a lot to us."

If players are supposed to compete like every game is their last, Elorriaga has been playing like it. Dating to when he suffered his back injury, Elorriaga had just 14 points in a six-game span. Last week in losses to Nevada and Air Force, he had 15 points in each game.

Rice said he often seeks out recruits born out of humble beginnings and hard work. Before his first season, Rice heard from then-Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier about a scrappy kid from Portland interested in becoming a walk-on.

"He's one of the toughest three-car garage guys I've ever met," Rice said. "He's a winner. That's going to carry over to the rest of his life."

Once his career comes to a close, Elorriaga's next step (in addition to playing a lot more golf) is to continue the family tradition of prosperous businessmen - his father, Steve, is chairman of a steel fabrication company, and his grandfather, John, was a longtime successful banker. John Elorriaga, a 1949 Boise Junior College graduate, has an endowed professorship and a lab in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State named after him.

The Elorriaga name will be cemented in the Boise State record book for some time, and who knows, if he can be as capable in his next stage of life as his father and grandfather, some future basketball facility will bear Jeff Elorriaga's name.

"Hopefully I can keep it going, be competitive in that world, too," Elorriaga said.

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