Woelk: Boyle Sets High Standards, Says Young Buffs Must Mature Quickly
SAN FRANCISCO — If the Colorado Buffaloes are going to live up to the foundational standards established by head coach Tad Boyle this year, the key will be a rapid maturation process.
Time will be of the essence.
"We're in great shape leadership wise," Boyle said at Wednesday's Pac-12 Media Day. "Now it's time for our young guys to grow up — and we'd better grow up quickly."
The Buffs are indeed young this year. Of the 12 scholarship players on the roster, only two — seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet — have started more than one game in their college careers. Battey and Parquet are also the only players on the roster who have played a season in front of "normal crowds," with the others getting their experience during last year's Covid-impacted year.
The roster also includes five true freshmen and a handful of players who received some relatively significant playing time last season. That group — Keeshawn Barthelemy, Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva — will be expected to up their game significantly if the Buffs are to meet the standards Boyle has set forth.
But Boyle won't be using youth as an excuse. In the wake of a third-place finish in the Pac-12 regular season, a conference tournament final appearance and a first-round win in the NCAA Tournament last season, Boyle made it clear he isn't expecting a step back — no matter how young his team might be.
"I remember distinctly our team meeting last spring when the seniors were gone," Boyle said with a chuckle. "It was a pretty barren room — Evan and Eli and Keeshawn and a few other guys. The challenge that we laid at their feet was that our program has set some standards for itself now. We expect to be an NCAA Tournament team year in and year out. We expect to be in the upper half of the league and hopefully competing for a championship."'
Now, Boyle said, the Buffs must set their sights on bumping those standards up another notch.
"Winning (multiple games in the tournament) is the next step for us," Boyle said. "Getting to a Sweet 16, an Elite Eight, hopefully a Final Four someday. That's the next step for this program."
Of course, reaching that goal with such a young team won't be easy. But Boyle has put together perhaps the most ambitious non-conference schedule in his 12-year tenure in Boulder in order to get his youngsters battle tested in a hurry.
The slate includes a three-game set at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands (which could include a matchup with rival Colorado State) and a home slate that includes games against New Mexico, Tennessee and Kansas. Also on tap is an exhibition contest at Nebraska.
"November and December are going to be big months for this team," Boyle said. "Tennessee and Kansas are big games. But when you're playing for an NCAA Tournament bid, in November every game is a big game. It's not just those two."
Indeed, that November-December lineup will also include a pair of conference games, as CU will host Stanford on Nov. 28, then travel to UCLA on Dec. 1.
With a team dominated by youngsters, Boyle will need steadfast guidance from his seniors — and he has the perfect candidates in Battey and Parquet.
"Evan's been a leader from Day One," Boyle said. "Last year he had a lot of guys that came in with his recruiting class that aren't back … This year's just another challenge for him to take on that leadership role. He's got a guy in Elijah Parquet that's going to help in that. McKinley (Wright) did a great job for us, now it's on these two guys' shoulders."
Battey has indeed been a natural leader — and fan favorite — since the day he first donned a Buffs uniform. Forced to sit out his first year because of NCAA issues — and then enduring a stroke midway through his freshman season — he has steadily taken on more and more responsibilities.
Wednesday, he was named as a first-team preseason All-Pac-12 selection.
"Evan's just a natural leader," Boyle said. "People are drawn to him. He influences people. If you know Evan Battey, you love him — and we love him."
Parquet, meanwhile, will assume a much bigger role as well in the leadership department. After starting all 31 games last season, his spot as a defensive stopper in the backcourt is firmly set. Now, he must help CU's younger players mature quickly.
"I've always been an example-first guy," Parquet said. "But I've been working in the offseason on being a more vocal guy with the young guys, especially in practice. Getting them in the right spots, making sure they're making the right reads and stuff. I've been stepping up a lot on my vocal part."
Two other returnees who will play critical roles are sophomores Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva. Walker, a preseason honorable mention all-conference pick, showed moments of brilliance last year, as well as some "freshman" moments. Da Silva, who has had an outstanding training camp thus far, also showed flashes of excellence a year ago.
"Jabari, you look at his numbers, they don't jump off the page until you look at the fact that he only played 14 minutes a game," Boyle said of Walker, who encountered more than his fair share of foul troubles a year ago. "What he did in the time that he was on the floor, he was very efficient and he impacted the game in a big way … (But) people are going to start preparing for Jabari. He got a lot of free looks last year that he's not going to get this year. It's the evolution of going from your freshman year to your sophomore year."
This year, Walker's job will be to turn those flashes into consistent, night-in, night-out production — a challenge that da Silva must also meet.
"(Walker) is going to be a big, big part of this year's team, without a doubt," Boyle said. "I would also add Tristan da Silva to that mix as well. We're going to need both those guys to step up for us to be successful this year."