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Woelk: Boyle's Challenge Will Be To Get His Young Buffs To Mature Quickly

Oct 19, 2021

BOULDER — Make no mistake, Colorado coach Tad Boyle knows what's ahead for his 2021-22 Buffaloes.

The Buffaloes are young. They are relatively inexperienced. As Boyle said at Tuesday's CU Media Day, "They don't know what they don't know."

But they are talented, brimming with potential — and if all goes well, they will be tipping it off in the NCAA Tournament next March.

The NCAA tourney, however, is the farthest thing from Boyle's mind today. A much bigger concern is simply getting his team ready for its Nov. 9 season opener.

There is no proven veteran point guard to run the show and no proven, every-night double-digit scorers. In fact, only two veterans on Boyle's team have ever played a season in front of college crowds. The rest know only high school gyms and empty arenas.

For Boyle, it means he and his staff must adapt their daily regimens to fit the roster. 

This year won't be as much about getting the most out of his veterans on a daily basis as it will be getting his youngsters to adapt, absorb and learn the rigors of the college game. It will require daily indoctrination to make sure the foundational building blocks of CU hoops — defense and rebounding — are firmly instilled. It will require more teaching, more instruction, and perhaps most importantly, more patience.

"I have to remind myself that I'm going to have to have a little bit more patience with this year's team and I have to find a balance between patience and not lowering standards," Boyle said. "That's going to be critical for me to do my job as best I can."

This group is not loaded with veterans who know the ropes, who have been through the ups and downs of a 30-game schedule, who know how a season can start to grind in February and March. Neither is it a team loaded with players who have run into the buzzsaw of experienced, quality foes on a weekly basis.

But it is no doubt talented. With a top-10 recruiting class waiting for its initiation, a stellar group of sophomores anxious to take the next step in their development and two seniors prepared to hold the reins of leadership, the elevator for this year's team could climb high.

The key, however, will be how they manage to negotiate the ground floor.

"This is going to be a team that's going to be a work in progress," Boyle said. "We will not be at our best on November 9th (the season opener vs. Montana State) … This is a talented, talented group of young players that we're going to have to get to grow up quickly as this season unfolds. There's going to be some adversity, some headwinds, that'll hit us, and that's where we're going to rely on our leadership."

Indeed, the Buffs will be leaning heavily on senior big man Evan Battey and senior guard Elijah Parquet. Both have plenty of starting experience under their belts, both are well-versed in the ways of Colorado basketball, and both have proven themselves capable of handling themselves against quality opponents.

Now, they must add the job of pushing and prodding their younger mates in the same direction.

Boyle has made sure his seniors are aware of the challenge.

"I've told Eli, 'You have the perimeter guys, get them right. Talk to them, encourage them, challenge them, go at them every day and let them know what the standard is,'" Boyle said. "I've asked Evan to do the same thing with Lawson (Lovering, CU's talented freshman big man). What has to be done is to help Lawson grow and compete, and really get better … I want Evan to really take those bigs, kind of challenge them. That's what leadership is so important to this team and we've got two guys that are really taking that."

What the young Buffs won't get this year is a steady diet of cupcakes in the non-conference schedule. The slate includes matchups with Kansas (No. 3 in the AP preseason poll) and Tennessee (No. 18) and a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam, where CU could face rival Colorado State in the finals.

The Buffs will also get an early dose of Pac-12 play, with a home game vs. Stanford on Nov. 28 before a trip to UCLA — ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll — on Dec. 1. 

Those headwinds Boyle mentioned could no doubt pop up in a hurry. Along with Parquet and Battey, the Buffs will need their sophomores — in particular Keeshawn Barthelemy, Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva — to take their game up a notch. Flashes of brilliance will no longer be enough; consistency must become part of the equation.

Boyle is excited about the challenge ahead.

"We're going to need some of those sophomores to step up without a doubt," Boyle said. "We're going to need some of those freshmen to play minutes without a doubt. That's really going to be the question mark with this team … It's going to be a long road for these young guys and they're going to have to grow up quickly and learn quickly and adapt quickly. But I love our talent level, I really do, and I love our youthful exuberance."

Clearly, Boyle believes he has the pieces in place. His challenge will be trying to fit them together into a cohesive unit by the time the calendar flips to February and March — and hopefully have them ready to fill out their dance card.