Brooks: 'New-Look' Buffs Begin Preparations For CBI
BOULDER - The Colorado men's basketball team began practice on Monday for a postseason tournament that some players had never heard of but have warmed quickly to - and the afternoon only got stranger from there
Not strange in a bad or disturbing way. Just strange.
The Buffs' leading scorer - senior guard Askia Booker - wasn't in the building and won't play Wednesday night (7 p.m., Coors Events Center, KOA Radio) in the CBI Tournament against Gardner-Webb. Booker pulled the plug on himself and his CU career on Sunday, telling coach Tad Boyle of his intentions not to participate.
Recalled Boyle: "I said, 'How are you feeling?' He said, 'Coach, I don't want to play.' He's a senior . . . I can't really comment; that's something for 'Ski.' I respect it and we'll move on. It is what it is."
Boyle said he wasn't sure if Booker would be around the Buffs over the next two days. "But he's welcome to," added Boyle. "He's part of our basketball family and always will be. He's had a great career here, so I couldn't answer that either."
Meanwhile, sophomore wing Dustin Thomas was in the building and practicing with his soon-to-be former teammates. Thomas is going to transfer; he will not play against the Runnin' Bulldogs either, having reached a decision that potentially losing minutes next season at a position he deems unsuitable isn't in his best interest.
Yet there Thomas was Monday afternoon at the CEC, hooping it up with the scout team, hustling and doing most of the things that have earned Boyle's respect over the last two seasons. Was he still into it? He even dropped to the floor for pushups with the rest of the guys in gold when they erred.
"I've got great respect for Dustin Thomas, what he's done in the two years he's been here, the kind of young man he is," Boyle said, adding that Thomas' decision "didn't come out of left field."
Within the last three weeks or so, Boyle and Thomas had talked. When Thomas reached his decision and the announcement was made Monday, player and coach concurred that Thomas not playing on Wednesday was best.
"Part of it is for Dustin to move on, get his release and take a look at other schools," Boyle said. "Basically he'll go through the recruiting process all over, and with spring break next week maybe he'll take some visits."
Boyle said Thomas doesn't leave with any ill-will toward CU and vice versa, and that he and his staff support Thomas in his decision and respect it. Thomas, said Boyle, "loves his teammates and the university," and Boyle loved "the attitude and work ethic he brought to practice every day. He's going to be very successful anywhere he goes."
Booker didn't attend practice and Thomas declined interview requests, but Boyle said his most recent conversation with Thomas reiterated that Thomas "wants to play a little more on the perimeter than we want to play him (there)."
Thomas' primary competition at the "four" spot next season would be sophomore Wes Gordon, also a sophomore this season. "The biggest reason (for Thomas' decision) is probably playing time," Boyle said. "March is a time to sit down and reevaluate and kids have to make decisions for themselves . . . the last couple of years we've been talking about kids making decisions to go early to the NBA - Andre (Roberson) and Spencer (Dinwiddie). They had to make decisions that were best for them, Dustin just made one that he feels like is in his best interest."
Ditto for Booker, but he nonetheless caught the social media wrath of some fans for his decision. Asked if that was fair, Boyle responded, "I don't know if it's fair, but I did mention to 'Ski' that you realize you'll take some heat with this decision. He shook his head like he understood. So it goes with the territory.
"'Ski's a big boy, he's an adult now. He's going to be a college graduate in May, so it's not for me to comment on (it). I'm not a social media guy; you won't find me on Twitter or any of that stuff."
Freshman guard Dom Collier said no grudges were held against Booker: "He picked it up on offense and defense when we needed him to. I don't think he quit on us. I just feel like probably his body was wearing out. He was playing on sore hips for half the season (and) he probably thought it would be better for us to play and have a look without him going into next season. So I don't think he quit on us at all."
If he was disappointed in Booker's decision, Boyle said it was a non-factor for the Buffs, their immediate future and for next season. "We're moving on," he said. "It doesn't matter how Tad Boyle feels. It's about the guys . . . I said after the Arizona game, my whole thing between that day and where we are today and certainly as we move forward, I want to find out the players in this program who have both feet in. That's what I want. I don't want somebody out on this practice floor preparing for a game who is doing so reluctantly.
"From that standpoint, I respect 'Ski' and his decision. It's about who wants to be here and who's committed to be here, who wants to compete and who's committed to competing. That's who I want in that locker room and out on that floor."
From the indications Boyle got on Sunday and again on Monday at practice, those players working on the Sox Walseth Court had "both feet in." He said he and his players are excited about extending their season for one or more games: "We're glad the CBI exists or we wouldn't be (extending the season). But I don't think it's anybody's first choice. The people who run this tournament understand that, but they also understand there's a market for it. There's still some college basketball teams that have had good years - and Colorado isn't one of those based on our expectations. But I think we've been playing well these last five games."
Boyle also scoffed at the idea that with his fifth team finishing 15-17 and missing the NCAA Tournament after three straight trips, "the sky is falling" in CU hoops.
"Oh, God no . . . no, no, absolutely not," Boyle said. "I feel as good today as ever. We've got commitments from good kids who are coming in next year, we've got good young players in the program. We've got four seniors coming back next year who have been in the program for four years. I feel really good about where we are and where we're headed. The sky is not falling. We're going to be fine; we're going to be better next year than we were this year."
Minus Booker, minus Thomas, with their minutes going elsewhere, the Buffs hope to get a head start on it Wednesday night. They figured to be a different team with a different look, but it happened faster than anyone expected - and at the tail end of a season that no one expected.