Among the many messages Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle shared during the university’s annual winter sports media day were two distinct and actually polarizing thoughts.
The first was nothing new, as the youthful, mostly new-look Buffaloes boast the makeup of a team that expects to be much better in February that it is in November and December. But also, and despite that, Boyle doesn’t want Buffs fans to sell tickets to the Dec. 21 showdown against Kansas to any fans of the other side.
Boyle and his players met the local media Tuesday amid expectations at their usual lofty level within the program, yet might be more guarded on the outside. Yet the gathering at the CU Events Center was a welcome opportunity to examine the fast-approaching 2021-22 season three weeks ahead of the Nov. 9 opener at home against Montana State.
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And just being able to gather at all was a reminder that 10 of CU’s 12 scholarship players — everyone except seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet — have never played in front of a full college arena thanks to last year’s COVID-19 season.
The young Buffs, who could feature up to eight rotation players who are either true sophomores or freshmen, will be tasked with growing up in a hurry.
“We’ve got 10 of our 12 scholarship players that have never played in front of a college crowd. That’s a lot,” Boyle said. “This is going to be a team that’s going to be a work in progress. We will not be at our best on November the ninth. I’m hopeful we’ll be better than we were (Tuesday) at practice and the way we’ve been here the last week or so.
“This is a talented, talented group of young players that we’re going to have to get to grow up quickly as the season unfolds. There’s going to be some adversity, some headwinds, that are going to hit us, and that’s when we’re going to rely on our leadership with Evan and Eli, and Benan (Ersek) and Will (Loughlin) to get through that.”
Given the Buffs’ youth, the execution and competitiveness on display during CU’s two exhibition games might be more critical than in other seasons. The Buffs’ Oct. 27 exhibition opener against Colorado Mines next week will be the first time suiting up for the Buffs for freshmen Julian Hammond, Lawson Lovering, Javon Ruffin, and KJ Simpson. It also will mark the first time CU sophomores Jabari Walker, Tristan da Silva, Nique Clifford, Luke O’Brien, and third-year sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy will play in front of an unrestricted crowd at the CU Events Center.
Another key preseason step for the Buffs will be the Oct. 31 charity exhibition game at Nebraska, which has a chance of offering a more raucous and competitive environment than the typical preseason game.
“That’s the reason why we agreed to the Nebraska scrimmage and charity game,” Boyle said. “For this year’s team, we need that. It’s also why I didn’t schedule a lot of games away from the (CU) Events Center early in November and December. I know in the league we’re going to get 10 away from our home, and then obviously we’ve got the Virgin Islands tournament. We’ll get enough road experience. That Nebraska game will be a great test to see where we are in that regard.”
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