George King never fails to put himself through his shooting paces.
After every Colorado Buffaloes practice King works his way across the wing, firing a repeating series of 10 jump shots. He moves back and forth along the 3-point line the same way, and before he finally calls it a day he makes certain to get reps in at the free throw line.
A pinpoint shooter with a devoted work ethic, King never shies from putting in his work. It was that work habit festering within the CU wing player that helped him not only to survive the mental travails of a redshirt season last year that prevented him from putting his practice into play, but allowed his hard work to flourish this season as one of the breakout stars in the Pac-12 Conference.
Think that sort of hard work doesn't pay off? Go look at what happened at home against Washington State on Feb. 11.
With the Buffs on the cusp of suffering the sort of loss that might have irreparably damaged their NCAA credentials, King took control. Though WSU standout Josh Hawkinson was in his face, King launched a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that led to an eventual double-overtime win.
It's a moment head coach Tad Boyle, the man who asked King to devote his time and his sweat to a redshirt season, hasn't forgotten.
"Where would we be if he didn't make that shot?" Boyle said. "That was a big-time shot in our season."
It took little time for King to show he had put his time to good use. In his first career start in the Buffs' second game at Auburn, King went 9-for-14 from the field, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, while recording 27 points and seven rebounds in a CU win.
More big games soon followed. Twenty-three points on another 4-for-6 effort from 3-point range against Brigham Young. An 8-for-10 performance (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) with 21 points at home against Utah on Jan. 8. Despite a subpar 3-for-13 shooting performance against Washington on Feb. 13, King notched his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Yet as the games went along, opposing defenses that didn't even know who King was at the beginning of the season began paying attention. No longer a question mark, King became a focal point for the opposition. He had to learn to adjust accordingly.
"Consistency is key," King said. "The first couple games of the season they didn't know who I was. I wasn't on film. I wasn't on tape. They didn't know if I was a shooter or what type of player I was. After that, maybe the big Auburn game, guys were keying in. If I was open in the corner guys would fly out, and I'd have to pump fake and go by them. So yeah, I made my adjustments."
There were some lulls — King went 6-for-20 in the Buffs' two pre-Christmas games in the Las Vegas Classic and went without a field goal for the only time this season at Oregon State on Feb. 6 — but he came on strong in his first significant experience in the Pac-12 tournament.
King made certain the Buffs got off to a strong start in the opening round against Washington State, making five of his first six shots before finishing with a team-high 21 points. He shook off a slow start the following day against Arizona to score 19 of his 22 points after halftime, playing a key role in a late rally that fell just short.
King finished with the top 3-point percentage in the Pac-12 and was earned the league's Most Improved Player award. All of it added further validation to the work King put in from the sidelines last season.
"When you recruit players, you recruit them with the idea of how good they can be. But you never know how it's all going to play out," Boyle said. "I expected George to be good. The fact that he's been as consistent as he has — he's the most improved player in the Pac-12, a deserved honor from his peers."
CU vs. UConn
What: NCAA Tournament first round.
When: Thursday, 11:30 a.m. MDT.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa.
TV/radio: TNT, 760AM.