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Buffs' Boyle Stresses Importance Of Veteran Leadership

Oct 28, 2020
Leadership of veterans such as McKinley Wright IV will be crucial for Buffs this season.

BOULDER — It's no secret that Colorado coach Tad Boyle very much likes his latest recruiting class.

Consisting of four freshmen and a graduate transfer, the group could turn out to be one of the best Boyle has assembled in his tenure in Boulder — so talented, in fact, that some of those freshmen might not be around for their entire eligibility at CU.

That, at least, is the judgment of Buffs senior guard McKinley Wright IV.

"This is one of the better recruiting classes that Colorado has ever had, including my class," Wright said. "This freshman class, they have a lot of pieces, a lot of dudes I don't think will be here for four years. We've got some dudes that can hoop."

The group includes 6-8 freshman forwards Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva, 6-7 freshman shooting guard Luke O'Brien, and 6-5 freshman guard Nique Clifford, along with 6-7 grad transfer Jeriah Horne. It is a talented group that could see several become significant contributors this season.

But Boyle has also made it clear that his squad's fortunes will still depend on its upperclassmen and their leadership. If the Buffs are going to win — especially early in the season — they will need their leaders to be the driving force, both in games and in practice.

"Critical — really critical," was Boyle's response when asked about the importance of his team leaders and their influence. "This team is only going to be as good as our veterans are. I think our freshmen are really talented. They are going to help us at times. They're going to fill a lot of holes and they're going to be great players as their careers progress. But we're not in a position where we can rely on those freshmen to win games."

There is certainly no lack of veteran leadership on the roster, beginning with Wright, an All-Pac-12 player and national awards candidate. As the point guard and quarterback, Wright has the ability to set the tone and direction of the team.

But it is more than Wright. Returning starters D'Shawn Schwartz,  Dallas Walton and Evan Battey also have the ability and experience to direct the younger players, as do seniors Maddox Daniels and Alex Strating and junior Eli Parquet.

Their tasks are to set examples in practice and make sure the newcomers know the expectations of the program. It is something Boyle has been stressing with his upperclassmen since practice began.

"It's one thing for (newcomers) to hear it from the coaching staff and coming out of my mouth or assistant coaches' mouths," Boyle said. "But it's a totally different thing when they hear it coming from McKinley or Evan or D'Shawn or Dallas ... one of our veteran guys. They have to really have their voices heard."

It is particularly important as Boyle makes sure the newcomers understand the culture of the program and it's foundational principles — beginning with defense and rebounding. 

"Right now, a lot of our new guys are new to the program so they don't understand what Colorado basketball is about yet," Boyle said. "But I think they're learning."

Earlier this week, Boyle said he saw the Buffs take a step forward on the defensive end. 

"Today was the first day I felt that we have a chance to be pretty good defensively," Boyle said. "Up until today, I felt like we were a below-average Pac-12 defensive team. I told the players that yesterday before practice. Part of my job as a coach is to be real with them, be honest … I think the guys responded to that. I liked our defensive intensity today."

That is where the older players' influence becomes an imperative.

"(The freshmen's) defensive mindset is nowhere near where it needs to be," Boyle said. "It's incumbent on our veteran players, our returning guys, to let them know that and exhibit that in practice on a day-to-day basis. Up until today, we hadn't done it. But today was really good."

VERSATILE DA SILVA: Tristan da Silva, a freshman from Germany, is one player Boyle believes could provide some help this year — and he could do it by playing a combination of positions that is not easy.

Listed at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, da Silva can play the wing as well as a forward spot. 

"The thing about Tristan that makes him special is his ability to play on the perimeter because he can really shoot the 3 and he can put the ball on the floor," Boyle said. "His perimeter game right now is probably a little bit ahead of his post game, but he's also got the ability to go down low and score over smaller guards because he's got such great size."

While learning two such different positions isn't easy, Boyle believe's da Silva's basketball IQ will allow him to play both.

"He's tall and skilled and can stretch the floor," Boyle said, "He's got the mental makeup to be able to do that. How quickly he can acclimate and where he fits in best — yet to be seen."