Colorado using multiple options to replace McKinley Wright IV's talent and leadership
McKinley Wright IV was everything for the Buffs over the last four years.
The face of the program, Wright is the all-time assists leader in Colorado history and the only player in Pac-12 history to reach the career marks of 1,800 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists. More than that, he was the heart and soul of the program, the engine that made the Buffs go, leading Colorado to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last spring.
And now he’s with the Minnesota Timberwolves after signing as an undrafted free agent. There’s no doubt the Buffs will look and feel different without his presence in Boulder – and not just his presence, as the Buffs lose three other seniors who were key rotation pieces last year in Jeriah Horne, D’Shawn Schwartz and Maddox Daniels. In short, the Buffs are without their longtime floor general and a whole lot younger.
From a basketball standpoint, the Buffs need a new point guard. As head coach Tad Boyle sees it, the team will need point guards, plural. Recently telling Neill Woelk of cubuffs.com he views the point guard spot as a “three-headed monster” with Keeshawn Barthelemy, KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III as the primary options, Boyle re-emphasized at Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day that it won’t be on just one guy to fill the shoes left behind by Wright.
“Our point guard position is going to be something that is going to evolve as the year goes. Obviously having a guy like Elijah [Parquet] in the backcourt who has the experience and is a lockdown defender really helps because Eli can play the point as well,” Boyle said. “I look at it with a three-headed monster with KJ and Julian as freshmen and then obviously Keeshawn coming back for his third year in the program…Those three guys and you add Eli to the mix.”
Perhaps it’s more of a four-headed monster, then. Barthelemy, Wright’s primary backup last year, was lauded by Boyle at Media Day for his offseason dedication to working on his game. Meanwhile, Boyle described Simpson as a dynamic guard and Hammond as a freshman who just gets things done on the court.
“In the open floor, Keeshawn and KJ are going to be, and you add Eli to the mix, as fast and athletic of a lineup as you’re going to see,” Boyle said. “And Julian Hammond has had a great, great start to his career. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t wow you with any particular skill set but he just makes plays and is becoming more comfortable with every practice.”
While there is no doubt Wright was a great leader for Colorado, the Buffs figure to be fine in that department with Evan Battey back for his fifth year in Boulder. Battey has bounced back from a stroke and seizure early in his college career to average double figures last season, and has long been one of the emotional leaders on the team.
“Evan has been a leader from day one when he stepped foot on campus,” Boyle said. “Evan is just a natural leader. People are drawn to him. He influences people. If you know Evan Battey, you love him, and we love him.”
For Battey, working with a younger group of guys has helped him learn how to be patient as he tries to lead the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season.
“Last year we had a bunch of seniors who I didn’t have to hold their hand so much,” Battey said. “This year I’m really just trying to battle the line of when to lead and when to let them figure it out themselves and let them learn. I’m trying to fight that urge and just lead when I need to and let them grow.”