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Boyle Excited About Buffs' Potential

Oct 5, 2022
Tad Boyle has a solid blend of returning experience and newcomers this season.

BOULDER — This year's version of the Colorado Buffaloes — one that has plenty of newcomers and youngsters — is one that could no doubt test coach Tad Boyle's patience.

But these Buffs are also the kind of team that could bring out the best in Boyle, a coach whose ability to develop potential into production has always been one of his strong points.

The Buffs no doubt have some holes to fill from last year's team, one that endured a relatively slow start and then built momentum down the Pac-12 stretch before finishing the year with an NIT loss.

CU's top three scorers from last year are gone, as are the top two rebounders, nevermind the leadership rock that was Evan Battey.

But these Buffaloes could be one of those sneaky-good Boyle squads, one that doesn't get a lot of preseason love — but when the dust clears at season's end, is lining up for an NCAA Tournament bid.

That, of course, is the goal — just as it is for every Boyle team. The Buffs have made five NCAA tourney appearances in Boyle's 12 seasons (with a sixth eliminated by the Covid pandemic), and an invitation to the NCAA's postseason party has now become more of an expectation for the program than a dream.

But delivering on that expectation this year will require some  consistent development from returnees and newcomers alike, as well as the ability to weather adversity — and bounce back quickly from those rocky moments.

"I really like this team coming up, it's going to be a fun team to coach, great kids," Boyle said at Wednesday's CU Media Day. "Selfless. I think it's going to be a team a lot like last year's in the sense that early we may struggle a little bit. We've got some returning guys that have to step up into different roles and be everyday guys when maybe last year they were pieces of the puzzle. So as that transition occurs, there may be some bumps in the road but we're a resilient group. We're a tough group and I like the pieces that we have. I think by the end of the season this team can be really dangerous and can certainly compete in the Pac-12 Conference."

Unlike many of Boyle's teams, there will likely be no one consistent leading scorer and rebounder, at least not eary (see Walker, Jabari, 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last year).

Instead, the Buffs will have to replace the numbers of Battey and Walker by committee. Boyle will need a handful of players to increase their scoring and rebounding by a few per game — and collectively, they can match the production of season's past.

"One of the questions we get all the time is how are you going to replace Jabari Walker's rebounding," Boyle said. "Hopefully, Luke O'Brien can give us two or three more a game. Hopefully, Nique Clifford could give us two or three more a game, and hopefully, our guards KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III get one or two more a game. Hopefully, Tristan da Silva can up his numbers. That's the challenge."

But while there may be no clear candidate for leading scorer and rebounder, Boyle also knows upon whose shoulders he expects the fortunes of this team to rest.

Da Silva, now a junior, will be expected to assume not only enhanced scoring and rebounding duties, but also a leadership role.

"(Last spring) I told Tristan if Jabari does leave, 'It's going to benefit you personally because you're going to be able to step into a bigger role,'" Boyle said. "Tristan is far and away our most consistent in his intelligence, his knowledge of the game, and his feel for the game. He's much more comfortable and confident now."

The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Da Silva was a consistent performer last season while showing the versatility to play a variety of positions. He finished second on the team in field goal and free throw percentage, third in assists (2.0 per game), and fourth in scoring (9.4 ppg) and rebounding (3.5 ppg).

But his next step will be moving away from the ultimate "team player" role and taking on a larger responsibility. That could mean becoming the go-to guy in crunch time, grabbing the key rebound at critical moments and becoming the day-to-day leader the Buffs will need.

"I expect him to be a first-team All-Pac-12 player, I really do," Boyle said. "If we can win enough games, that will happen because Tristan is going to be on the floor and he's going to be on the floor a lot and he can play multiple positions."

Other notes from Wednesday's press conference:

REDSHIRT PROGRESS: While redshirt freshmen Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin are both technically returning players, neither had the opportunity to practice regularly last year as they both sat out with injuries.

Thus, they are in some ways like true freshmen, although they do have the luxury of at least knowing how the program runs and details such as terminology.

The 6-8, 190-pound Allen was the 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year for Washington D.C., averaging more than 22 points and 10 rebounds in his final high school season. The 6-5, 191-pound Ruffin averaged more than 22 points and eight rebounds as a junior in New Orleans.

Both could prove to be contributors this season.

"With those two guys it's interesting," Boyle said. "I see flashes from both those guys in practice. Quincy will make plays that just make your jaw drop. He's so athletic. He's so bouncy. He can block shots. Javon has had some really good moments as well in practice and is making really smart basketball plays. He's a big guard who can handle it, can shoot it, and pass it. I think the biggest thing with both those guys, is I look at them still as freshmen … They're on the floor trying to learn."

IVY CONNECTION: Two Buffs newcomers are grad transfers from Ivy League schools, Jalen Gabbidon (Yale) and Ethan Wright (Princeton).

The 6-5, 195-pound Gabbidon averaged 11.6 points and 3.6 rebounds and was the league's defensive player of the year in 2019-20. 

The 6-3, 190-pound Wright averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds last season and earned second team all-Ivy honors.

"They're both high-level thinkers," Boyle said. "They were two of the best players in their league last year. Jalen's a very selfless guy, a team guy. He wants to do whatever is going to help the team win. He can make an open shot and can slash to the basket. Ethan's a good shooter, good rebounder, a sneaky athletic guy. I'm really happy to have both of them."

SIMPSON GROWTH: The Buffs will no doubt be looking for more minutes and more production from point guard KJ Simpson. While Simpson could share time with Julian Hammond at the point, Boyle said the Buffs will likely also put both on the floor at the same time to fully utilize their abilities.

Simpson had some outstanding moments last year, averaging 7.4 points, 2.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game. In conference play, he averaged 8.0 points and was second on the team in assists.

Those numbers should all significantly improve. The one number Boyle wants Simpson to reduce is turnovers, as he had 35 in 19 conference games.

"The big thing with KJ we've talked about is limiting his turnovers and becoming a more consistent perimeter shooter," Boyle said. "He's spent a lot of time on his jump shot and it looks smooth. I think he's made that jump in his game. Now, it's got to translate to the games."

One thing Simpson does not lack is confidence.

"He is a gamer," Boyle said. "He's not afraid of the moment. He's a competitive guy. He loves basketball. I think the biggest thing with KJ is he's got to bring the energy, open his mouth, and lead this team. Last year, Evan was that guy who was kind of directing traffic from the five spot, but he's gone. Now we have Tristan, who's doing a great job with that. But KJ can, especially in the position that he's playing."

SCHEDULE: The Buffs will open with an exhibition against Nebraska on Sunday, Oct. 30, at 4 p.m. at the CU Events Center. 

They then open the regular season on Nov. 7 with a home game against U.C. Riverside.