One is a senior, a player who is doing his best to maximize court time that has dropped appreciably this season.
The other is a freshman who frequently displays the virtues of a player who is becoming a quick study at the Division I level, yet makes just enough mistakes to remind everyone he remains a rookie.
Together, Xavier Talton and Thomas Akyazili have created a solid backup tandem behind starting point guard Dom Collier for the Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball team — a combined role that will remain a critical ingredient as the Buffs chase a potential NCAA tournament berth as Pac-12 Conference play begins at Cal on New Year's Day.
"I think the bench came in and played really great," Talton said shortly after the Buffs let a late lead slip against No. 18 SMU on Wednesday. "The bench play was really great, but it comes down to playing defense and making stops.
"When we get back from the break, we just have to get right back to the grind. Just keep working and get better at our execution offensively."
Talton and Akyazili do not typically fill up the stat sheet, yet both players have shown a knack for making timely contributions despite limited minutes. Both guards played key roles in CU's upset bid against the Mustangs, with Akayzili knocking down his two 3-point attempts and Talton recording four rebounds and two steals.
Combined, they recorded five assists (three for Talton, two for Akyazili) without committing a single turnover in 36 overall minutes.
"Great energy. Great focus. Great body language. I thought (Talton) played really well," head coach Tad Boyle said. "We're going to need that from XT at times this year. There's certain guys that are starting. There's certain guys playing more minutes. They have to understand that with that comes a responsibility. You look at our starting perimeter players (Collier, George King, and Tre'Shaun Fletcher against SMU) and they had one assist and eight turnovers as a group.
"That's not good enough. They need to understand that. And they've got to play better than that if they're going to be the guys who play the most minutes. If they're not, then maybe I've got to make some adjustments. We've got guys on the bench who are very capable, and I thought Thomas and XT and Josh Fortune, those guys came in and got the (SMU game) under control for us."
After averaging 21.6 points over the past two seasons, Talton has watched his minutes drop to 16.2 per game during CU's 13-game nonconference slate. He struggled to a .309 mark from the field last year but has improved somewhat to a .349 mark (15-for-43) while ranking tied for second on the team in steals and third in assists. Though he has shot just two free throws over the past seven games, Talton remains perfect on the season at 14-for-14.
Akyazili, a Belgian national, struggled at the season's outset while getting acclimated to both the culture and Division I basketball, yet he has improved steadily. After shooting just 4-for-14 over the first four games (including 2-for-9 from 3-point range), Akyazili has shot .424 (14-for-33) overall while going 9-for-17 from long range in the nine games since.
Akyazili is averaging 15 minutes per game and, perhaps most impressively for a true freshman from overseas, he has logged only two games with multiple turnovers.
"Thomas is a guy who has been a pleasant surprise in terms of his coachability, his energy, his effort, his willingness, his conscientiousness. I love him," Boyle said. "He has over-delivered for a freshman, but...it's all new to him. That's part of it. If he keeps playing like he did (against SMU), he'll play more. If XT keeps playing like he did, he'll play more."