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Woelk: Boyle's Buffs Brimming With Potential

Oct 1, 2022
Tristan da Silva will be expected to take on a larger role for the Buffs this year.

BOULDER — In his 12 seasons in Boulder, Tad Boyle's Colorado teams have covered a wide swath of the spectrum.

Veteran-laden squads. Inexperienced teams. Teams that played great defense and rebounded with passion, and teams that weren't exactly dialed in full-time to those foundational tenets of CU hoops.

And, Boyle has had teams with excellent leadership, as well as the occasional bunch that was missing the all-important intangible.

Now, as Boyle enters his 13th season with the Buffaloes, he sees a team with great potential — but one that will take time to develop and grow. How quickly that happens is anyone's guess.

What this year's team definitely doesn't have, at least not yet, is a built-in, guaranteed take-charge guy in the mold of a Josh Scott, McKinley Wright or Evan Battey.

Those were players who were rocks in times of adversity, players who weren't afraid to make their voice heard in practice when effort started to lag.

There are some candidates. Junior forward Tristan da Silva, who started 31 games last year, has the potential to step up and fill that role. Junior guard Nique Clifford could also be part of the equation. Sophomore guard K.J. Simpson, who started just one game last year but still averaged more than 20 minutes per contest, also has the ability to step in and provide that leadership from the point guard spot.

But whoever assumes that role will have to earn their teammates' respect — then be willing to make their voice heard.

While it's quite early, Boyle said he's seeing da Silva start to assume that responsibility.

"This 'leadership by example' stuff doesn't exist in my opinion," Boyle said last week. "You're just a great teammate and you bust your tail every day and do what you're supposed to do. (Being) a great teammate doesn't make you a great leader. … Open your mouth and tell people what they need to do. Encourage them, get on them, whatever the case may be. And Tristan is doing that."

Still, there's a difference between taking on that role now and having the willingness to do it when true adversity strikes — when the lights go on, crowds are in the building and the scoreboard counts.

"It's going to be a question mark until adversity hits, which won't happen until November, December," Boyle said.

What is not a question mark is that this group will need leadership. The talent is there at every position. The Buffs have excellent depth at guard, plenty of capable players on the wings and a 7-footer inside.

But there are some big holes to fill. Last year's leading scorer and rebounder, Jabari Walker (14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg) is off to the NBA. Second-leading scorer and rebounder Evan Battey (12.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) is pursuing a pro career as well, and third-leading scorer Keeshawn Barthlemy exited via the transfer portal.

That means da Silva (9.4 ppg) and Clifford (4.6 rebounds) are CU's most-productive returnees — which in turn means CU's young returnees and newcomers will have to fill the gaps left by the departed players.

There are plenty of candidates, both from the returning group and newcomers.

In the post, the Buffs will be looking for more consistency from 7-1 sophomore Lawson Lovering, who has added some muscle to his frame. 

The point guard spot should be in very good hands. Simpson — who showed flashes of excellence last year — should be poised to take that big freshman-to-sophomore step, with sophomore Julian Hammond also ready to make that jump.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 junior Luke O'Brien — a Swiss Army Knife who can play multiple roles — should also be ready for a bigger role.

As for newcomers, the list is intriguing.

Redshirt freshmen Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin, both of whom missed last year because of injuries, could be contributors. Allen, an ultra-talented 6-8 wing who Boyle said has the ability to do things that just "one percent of people playing college basketball can do," might be the Buffs' next version of Walker.

Now the key for Allen will be funneling that talent into consistent production.

"It's about consistency, being rock solid," Boyle said. "Right now he does one thing well, makes two mistakes … But so far I'm pleased with him. He's done some really good things."

Another newcomer who will be expected to deliver an immediate impact is junior college transfer J'Vonne Hadley, a JC All-American last year who averaged 10.9 points and 6.2 rebounds at Indian Hills CC.

And, Boyle will be looking for some production from grad transfers Jalen Gabbidon (Yale) and Ethan Wright (Princeton) who could add a veteran influence in games and in practice.

It all adds up to a young team, at least in terms of time in a Buffs uniform. Who takes over the job as lead rebounder will be a major question — and it could end up being a job by committee. There will no doubt be growing pains, especially with a non-conference schedule that includes matchups with Tennessee, Colorado State and possibly Texas A&M, along with the early Pac-12 games against Arizona State and Washington.

But it is also a team brimming with potential — the type of team that will present a wonderful challenge for Boyle. 

This is not a veteran team with established leadership that will simply require regular tweaks. Boyle and his staff must come up with some kind of rotation from a big group of candidates and figure out the best possible combinations — a task that will no doubt require some early experimentation. It's the kind of job that perfectly fits Boyle, who has deservedly earned a reputation as a great developer of talent.

But if all goes well, this could be a team that will once again make some noise in the Pac-12 — something that has been a constant under Boyle's leadership in Boulder.