Brooks: Boyle’s Buffs Seek Urgency As Opener Looms
BOULDER – Had a 12-step program been available to deal with the lack of a sense of urgency, Tad Boyle would have enrolled his Colorado men’s basketball team in it a month ago. With CU’s 2013-14 opener looming Friday night against Baylor, Boyle now is hoping when the lights are flipped on in Dallas’ American Airlines Arena, so is the Buffs’ fervor.
Thus far in preseason work, it’s been here today, gone tomorrow, maybe returning the day after, maybe not. You get the drift.
“It comes and goes with this group and we can’t have that,” Boyle said after a Monday practice in which the urgency – if not all attention to details and fundamentals – had made a rare early week appearance.
“It has to be here every day,” Boyle continued, “and the freshmen still don’t quite understand possession by possession how important it is.” That lack of understanding, he said, is attributable to “immaturity, youth, lack of leadership – all the above.”
Boyle’s team has had two preseason scrimmages. NCAA rules prohibit him or his players from offering specifics about either, or any reporting on a school website that’s any more substantial than this: the Buffs left the court on both occasions far from satisfied and laboring under a lengthy to-do list.
Boyle offered this progress report on Monday: “We’re good at getting to the free throw line; we do that very well. Outside of that, we don’t do anything well – right now, today.”
Want him to elaborate? Of course you do, and he did.
“We’re not good in half-court offense, defense, transition, screening, running, rebounding, boxing out . . . I could just keep going,” he said. “Friday, we want to be hopefully presentable in half-court offense, defense and transition. The rest of that stuff’s going to come.”
It most likely will come in direct correlation to the Buffs’ urgency and how quickly they twist that dial forward. But at the moment, said sophomore forward Xavier Johnson, “I’m not really seeing it. I say that because we’ve lost two scrimmages – and the last one was on our home floor. There was no excuse. It’s all about results. If we’re not out there winning games, hustling . . . if the coaches don’t think we’re not doing it then we’re not doing it. There’s nothing else to say.”
Boyle wants his team’s early leadership to come from Johnson and fellow sophomore Josh Scott, and junior backcourt starters Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, who said playing with an edge, with that urgency, last season “took a minute. I don’t believe many teams have it right away. I think it’s something you have to pick up and learn.
“This is a learning process, especially in scrimmages where you learn where you need to get better. That’s one of the places where we need to get better.”
The Buffs’ roster is heavy with underclassmen (five sophomores, four freshmen, one redshirt freshman), but Boyle never has been/never will be willing to bring youth into the equation for a team’s shortcomings.
“This team has enough talent; there’s no excuse,” he said. “The reason might be youth, but the excuse is not youth. I want to make sure I’m clear on that.”
As the season progresses, Boyle likely will depend on most of his four true freshmen – Dustin Thomas, George King, Jaron Hopkins, Tre’Shaun Fletcher. That foursome, said Booker, is abundantly talented “but they haven’t taken pride yet in defending, which they’re capable of because they’re 6-5 and taller. They’re so athletic they can defend, which coach wants. They have to realize offense will come a little bit later . . . and it shouldn’t be a problem for those guys.”
Skating, sliding, slacking – call it what you will – is taboo in Boyle’s practices and “when our freshmen try to take the easy way out it becomes apparent,” he said. “Our freshmen are talented enough to compete (but) mentally they’re just not there yet.”
Of Boyle’s three CU teams, his first featured the most seniors – Nate Tomlinson, Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault – playing the most minutes. Urgency over the last half of the season, particularly in Pac-12 Conference play, was rewarded by a surprising run to the league’s first postseason tournament championship in Los Angeles.
Booker, like his coach, said developing that mindset “starts with the leaders on this team – Spencer, myself, Xavier, Josh. If we can get the young guys to follow . . . how close are we to having that, we’ll see the first game. We’re trying to build it in practice; you can only take it day by day and practice by practice. Hopefully when the game comes it picks up and shows.”
Boyle’s starting lineup against Baylor likely will include the four returnees he’s counting on for leadership – Dinwiddie, Booker, Johnson, Scott – and either redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon or true freshman Dustin Thomas. Who starts and who’s first off the bench never have been paramount for Boyle; nightly matchups and other factors dictate minutes.
Plus, no starter’s name – not even the top returnees – is in stone, Boyle said: “The top four are not locked in – they can be beaten out. It’s just up to somebody to (do it).”
After the most recent scrimmage, Boyle asked his college coach – former Kansas coach Larry Brown, now at SMU – to address the Buffs. Boyle said he hoped his players “took something from it; they don’t just let anybody in the Hall of Fame. In my opinion he’s the best ever, but obviously I’m biased.”
I asked Boyle if the well-traveled Brown, whose 1988 KU team won the NCAA Championship, had offered him any advice on entering a season with a highly touted team. Boyle’s response: “Just the fact that you guys have done it before, so know you can do it again. But nobody is going to give you anything. That was the message I tried to pound home (Monday) at the end of practice. Just because the last three Colorado teams have won 20 games and gone to postseason play doesn’t mean we are. We have to go out and earn that; nothing’s given to you.
“I’m not saying we haven’t (worked hard in practice) but it’s time now for us to step up on game night. Until you’ve done that with this new group there’s some anxious moments as a coach.”
Those never end, but they can be managed. One of the axioms Boyle more than likely got from Brown is you’re never as good or as bad as you think you are. Right now, with the season opener closing in, Boyle is pretty sure the Buffs can be good. His biggest questions: How long will it take? And will the urgency arrive in time?