Brooks: Boyle, Lappe Pursuing Same Goal - Success
BOULDER - Tad Boyle and Linda Lappe have more in common than the month of their hiring, their small-town roots (Boyle is from Greeley, Lappe from Morningstar, Iowa) and their devotion to the university that brought them aboard last April within a couple of weeks of one another.
Boyle and Lappe are traveling parallel paths toward higher ground, a basketball season in which each will push his/her Colorado team toward a respectable height.
It's been awhile since either Buffaloes team has been there. Reservations have been made but not kept. Still, on Friday - Media Day for both coaches and their squads - Boyle and Lappe closely resembled their peers around the nation: undefeated, undaunted and approaching their debut seasons with unbridled enthusiasm.
"It's an exciting day in Colorado basketball (and) a great day in my life - personally and professionally," Boyle said.
"It's easy to talk about something you love - I love women's college basketball," Lappe said.
Boyle inherits a team that finished last season 15-16 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12 Conference. Lappe takes over a squad that was 13-17, 3-13 and, according to media covering the league, is not expected to be much better than that in the Buffs' final season of Big 12 play. Lappe and her players, of course, think otherwise.
Boyle's bunch is more experienced and is unique among Buffs teams in this respect: two of his players - senior Cory Higgins and sophomore Alec Burks, both wings - are on the prestigious Wooden Award preseason watch list. That's heady territory - more like Kansas, Duke or Kentucky terrain - for the long-suffering CU men's program.
Boyle and Lappe are looking for their first Buffs teams to share several tendencies: use Boulder's altitude to their advantage, play defense so tenaciously that opponents will swear they've encountered five strands of barb wire and play smart.
From now until March - late March he hopes - you'll hear Boyle use this phrase a lot: "Hard, smart and together." And more than once, you'll hear Lappe mention playing "the Colorado way," reminding her players of a 53-game CU home winning streak w-a-a-a-y back when (the Sox Walseth era), and that it wasn't that long ago when the Buffs were an NCAA Tournament fixture (the Ceal Barry era).
Both coaches want their teams to take giant steps on a daily basis, be better on Dec. 5 than they were on Nov. 5 and take that monthly improvement into March, maybe even April. It would be a dreamy journey for Boyle and Lappe - not to mention Buffs fans.
Random Media Day musings on each of their teams:
An early observation: If Jeff Bzdelik was the headmaster with the hard edge, Boyle is the neighbor who hands you his garden shears - or anything else you might need - over the backyard fence. But there's an intensity about Boyle that you won't find on his sleeve.
Bet on it being easily recognizable in his practices and on game-night, though. . . .
If Boyle had to select a most improved player since his arrival, he says it would be Big Aussie Shane Harris-Tunks. (Little Aussie is point guard Nate Tomlinson.) If Harris-Tunks' steps are as significant as Boyle believes, that's very good news for CU's inside game and rebounding. Harris-Tunks was listed in last season's media guide as 6-foot-11, 225; this year he's listed at 250, and Boyle calls Harris-Tunks' improvement "dramatic . . . I'm very pleased with the track he's on." . . .
Boyle also is pleased with Burks' newfound level of maturity. "He's handled all the hype well," Boyle said, adding he told Burks "to stay focused and let me coach you . . . he has unbelievable talent and basketball instincts." . . .
Burks claims he hasn't surpassed his 6-6 listing in the media guide, but he looks taller. As for his increased maturity, he told me, "I'm a long way from home and I've got to mature into a man someday. I feel like I should do it right now; I just feel like it's what I had to do." . . .
As for his schoolwork, Burks said, "A lot of things were thrown at me last year . . . I feel like I've got a little bit more of a handle on it this year. I'm doing a lot better than I was last year." . . .
Burks already has been the subject of early-NBA talk, and it won't cease anytime soon. "I hear it everywhere I go . . . I mean you can't help but notice it," he said. "But I'm not talking about it. At the end of the year I'm going to sit down with my mom and make a decision about it - what's the best for my future. If it's to go, I'll go; if it's to stay, I'll stay. I don't know that answer right now. I'll wait it out." . . .
I asked Burks if the prospect of playing in the Pac-10 would be a factor. His answer: "I would love to play in Cali (California). The Pac-10/Pac-12 would be a new conference, and getting another chance to play with man Shannon (Sharpe) would be great. It's an added bonus, and there are so many bonuses to stay." . . .
The athletic Sharpe, meanwhile, believes he's "90 percent" recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him last season and Boyle says Sharpe "guards the ball as well as anybody I've seen . . . I haven't seen him in a lot of five-on-five work, but I think he can be great in the open court." . . .
Sharpe's expectations: "We expect to be good and win . . . get out and compete and be a team that people don't expect us to be." . . .
And while on expectations, here's Boyle view: He values those of the internal variety far more than the external kind. His biggest question is, "What do we expect from ourselves and each other? There's tremendous room for improvement and we'll do it together." . . .
Boyle also believes that "80 to 85 percent" of games are won before tip-off. Consider that a clue on how he will conduct his practices. . . .
Boyle's practices will be open - a departure from his predecessor, Bzdelik, who was a stickler for privacy in more than workouts. Both coaches ran structured practices, but Boyle's will be snap-your-fingers lively, hair-on-fire fast - like the game tempo he wants.
"For us to walk it up, that gives it (the altitude advantage) all away," Boyle said, who will mix zone defenses with his preferred man-to-man. "But we'll hang our hats on the man . . . and we'll value every possession." . . .
Higgins is one of four seniors - Levi Knutson, Marcus Relphorde and Javon Coney are the others. The roster includes two freshmen - Andre Roberson and Ben Mills - and three transfers - Sabatino Chen, Carlon Brown and Hassam Safieddine. . . .
Boyle's up-tempo plan excites Higgins, and he says the coaching transition is nearly complete: "It's been working out great . . . everybody's got two feet in now. Guys like me and Alex, I think it's going to showcase our abilities. I think we all can excel in that kind of system. Besides, it's my last year, so there's a sense of urgency there. I want to enjoy it and leave here with no regrets."
If you attend one of Lappe's practices - they're open, too - and call out "Brittany," stand back. You might be overrun. CU's roster features a trio of Brittanys - Spears, a senior; Wilson, a freshman; and Blythe, also a senior, although she's Britney. . . .
The 2010-11 roster also features two sets of twins - sophomores Meagan and Brenna Malcolm-Peck and freshmen Brittany and Ashley Wilson. . . .
Between the Brittany/Britneys and the look-alikes at practice, "Yeah, it can get confusing," Brittany Wilson said. . . .
Lappe's goal for her team is to be "mentally tough and disciplined and play hard-nosed defense. We want to do things right on the court - be excellent in everything." . . . .
Spears, the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder, also has been the most athletic player on the roster since her arrival four years ago. "She wins almost every sprint," Lappe said.
This season, though, Spears has a challenger in that department in Shae Kelley, a 6-0 freshman from Denver East who even at first glance represents a caliber of athlete CU hasn't had in a while.
Lappe told of watching Spears and Kelley go one-on-one while Lappe and her staff marveled (and loved) the competition. Spears should only benefit, as should athletic point guard Chucky Jeffery as she enters her sophomore season. . . .
Kelley and her three freshmen teammates (center Rachel Hargis is the other) have hit the ground running. Said Kelley: "I don't think any of us has the time to be a freshman."
Lappe's observation of the 2009-10 team from watching game tapes, paraphrased: When teams need to get tough, they can go one of two directions - they either step up and get it done or they don't. "Sometimes," said Lappe, "they went the other way." . . . .
Turning that around and identifying one, two or more crunch time players are chief among Lappe's goals. And her practices are geared with those things in mind. She also wants the Buffs to improve in rebounding, be good at the free throw line and get there more often, play better transition defense and make opponents work for every basket.
Said Lappe: "We have to prove a lot of people wrong." . . .
Lappe's roster features three seniors - Spears, Blythe and Chelsea Dale. . . . .
A recent "aha moment" for Lappe: "There were eight players on the floor going for a loose ball."
And that's been representative of most of the practices, Meagan Malcolm-Peck said: "From the first day back, you could tell there was more intensity and attention to detail. There's an overall change in attitude. I think everybody loves the new intensity."
That includes the sometimes enigmatic Spears, who said everyone - including her - is working harder: "Way harder. I think we're already more competitive and there's more chemistry." . . . .
The hard work and intensity isn't foreign to the Wilson twins, who played in a top national high school program - Long Beach Poly - and are accustomed to the pace.
"We had same type of coach (at Long Beach Poly)," Brittany said. "We're used to intense practices. Our expectations are high and we're working hard. I think you can tell from the way we worked in the preseason and in the few practices we've had that our goals are way above how they finished last year." . . .
Something, maybe everything, has to change before the Buffs reach the level they're seeking. Said Lappe: "You can't expect different results if you keep doing the same things over and over . . . isn't that the definition of insanity?"