Brooks: Paradise For Boyle Is Finding Consistency
BOULDER - Tad Boyle has at least one must-see stop in Hawai'i. For its historic and patriotic value, he wants his Colorado men's team to visit the site of the sunken Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Beyond that, the Buffaloes' week in paradise is mostly, if not all, basketball business.
Boyle's must-see list is easily trumped by a must-do list, and it starts and ends with achieving more overall consistency than his team has shown in its first nine non-conference games. The Buffs (6-3) open play in the Diamond Head Classic on Monday (2:30 p.m. MST, ESPNU) against DePaul (6-4). CU is guaranteed three games, but the pair of opponents after Monday is TBD - depending on the day one outcomes.
The majority of the Buffs are making their initial Hawai'i excursions, and all are appreciative of the opportunity to play holiday hoops in a tropical clime. Leaving practice in flip-flops - as the Buffs expected to do after workouts on Saturday and Sunday - beats trudging out in snow boots. Boyle wants his guys to experience the warmth, the island culture and ambience, the holiday spirit, the camaraderie, etc., ad infinitum . . .
"But we're going there to play basketball," he reiterated a couple of days before departure.
The season's first month has been a strange trip for Boyle and his crew. Picked to finish third in the Pac-12 Conference's preseason media poll and initially receiving enough votes to be a top 30 team in the early national polls, the Buffs have performed below those expectations. Boyle has spoken of his team being "a little overrated" and thus far struggling to play a 40-minute game.
His fifth CU team is, um, different. It's a talented but diverse collection of personalities that seem amped up on some nights but tamped down on others. That's part of the consistency puzzle Boyle is trying to solve, with sometimes having to "coach effort" perhaps his most perplexing task.
"Every team is different," he said. "The thing about this team is we've got some strong personalities on this team, we've got some egos on this team (but) every team has them. The fact of the matter is, the expectation level coming into this season on this team was higher than any team we've had here. And we haven't handled it.
"If our team gives great effort and great energy for 40 minutes, we're going to give ourselves a good chance to win. Now, there are obviously things to work on, every team has them . . . you talk about the X's and O's as the things to get better at. That, as a coach, is what I want to concern myself with, not, 'Is this guy playing hard, is he giving effort every minute he's in there?'
"If I have to concern myself with that and sub guys out because they're not playing hard or they're not mentally in the game, then as a coach it's hard. It's frustrating and these guys know that. There's a fine line between thinking you're better than you are and not being as good as what you think you are. Seriously, there's a fine line there. This team has maybe walked that line a little bit to this point."
By no means is he alone, but there's no question that sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins has taken multiple walks along the line Boyle is describing. At 6-6 with arms that look as if they could double-wrap his body, Hopkins is freakishly athletic. He's fast, agile and might be able to rest his elbows on the rim. In his limited time as a Buff, he's had ridiculous breakaway dunks, drives to the rim and stupefying stuffs.
"When he brings it," said Boyle, "he's as good as any guard that we've got and I think as good as any guard in the league - when he brings it on a consistent basis."
There's the rub for Hopkins and the Buffs. Consistency. But in CU's last game - a 93-68 burial of Northern Colorado - Hopkins might have submitted his best overall game. Granted, the competition soon will rise several clicks in the Pac-12, but he finished with a season-high 10 points, a career-high five assists, five rebounds, one block and one steal. Three turnovers were a slight smudge, but Boyle was willing to look on the bright side.
"He's getting into the flow, no question," Boyle said. "He played well against UNC and he's practiced well in two of our last three practices. You can see his confidence. I don't know if the light's gone on or not, but when he plays with a motor and energy . . . we need that on both ends of the floor - not just one end. Like a lot of our guys, his challenge is consistency."
Hopkins, who has started two games this season, is averaging 5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and just over one assist per game. Like many sophomores whose minutes are on the rise, he says the game "is slowing down for me a little bit . . . I can see things before they happen and I feel like I'm getting a little more aggressive as well. And as long as I'm more aggressive I think I play to the best of my abilities. I think my game as a whole has gotten better."
His opportunities for more minutes in Hawai'i likely will increase, particularly against DePaul. The Blue Demons' point guard is 6-6 Billy Garrett Jr., the 2013-14 Big East Rookie of the Year. While Boyle says the Buffs' island stay won't be a time of wholesale experimentation with his rotation - "We're kind of past the experimentation point" - he does note that game-to-game matchups might necessitate using different personnel and lineups.
Enter Hopkins, and he says he's prepared: "Yeah . . . I'm pretty confident in my defense. As long as I guard the ball, stay active and hustle I can create havoc on the defensive end."
In addition to having freshman forward Tory Miller (concussion) back, Boyle also will have Dom Collier available after the freshman guard sat out the last two games with a sprained left wrist. The 6-2 Collier, whose first full practice was Thursday, might play wearing a brace. But he says he's acclimating to that as well as slight pain sometimes when he catches the ball.
"It's been frustrating that I couldn't be on the court," said Collier, who has missed four of his team's nine games. "I love to play basketball, so just sitting and watching has been frustrating to me. But I learned a lot from the coaches and what they see. It's different from what we're seeing on the court."
When they return from Hawai'i, the Buffs will have only a short respite before opening Pac-12 play on Friday, Jan. 2 against UCLA (8 p.m., Coors Events Center, FOX Sports 1). Boyle isn't looking that far ahead; he's more in an island state of mind.
"I'm not even thinking about conference play," Boyle said. "What we want to do in this tournament is hopefully get some consistency. Three games in four days, get into a flow, some sort of rhythm offensively and hopefully get a commitment to the defense and rebounding . . .
"I'm not talking about shots going in or not going in. But just in terms of execution, taking care of the ball, guarding the ball and all the things we talk about on a day-to-day basis, I want to see that consistently happen in these three games. If we do it to the level we're capable of the results will take care of themselves . . .
"We'll play two games in three days, three games in four days. It's good for guys to get used to scouting reports and back-to-back games (as in the Pac-12), but we're more concerned about Colorado. We scout opponents, tendencies and help prepare guys as best we can, but the most important preparation is to make sure Colorado is ready to go and play Colorado basketball."