Colorado basketball has been blessed with some explosive players in recent seasons.

Alec Burks, Cory Higgins and Carlon Brown were tough matchups for any team to handle when they were aggressively attacking the rim and knocking down shots.

Andre Roberson, the 6-7 forward who led the Pac-12 in rebounding last season, is the leader of the 2012-13 Buffs.

The athleticism of Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie and Xavier Johnson bring to the lineup should allow Tad Boyle to use a trapping full-court defense more often.

But what really stands out during CU's early practices is the depth and size the program has in the paint.

Shane Harris-Tunks, a 6-11 junior, is healthy again and hoping for a breakout season.

The two true freshmen from Colorado Springs, Wesley Gordon (6-8) and Josh Scott (6-10), are going to have an immediate impact.

And junior Ben Mills (7-0) continues to develop.

"It's completely different," Harris-Tunks said of the competition on the block in practice. "Austin (Dufault) and Trey (Eckloff) were talented big guys, but they were completely different body types to Wesley and Josh."

Dufault, a 6-8 forward who averaged 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a senior, was forced to play a lot of center during his career due to a lack of help. Eckloff was a 6-10 role player who saw action in eight games on last season's Pac-12 Tournament championship team.

Gordon and Scott have the talent to be stars and perhaps NBA players down the road.


Advertisement

That's going to make Harris-Tunks a better upperclassman.

"They both have extremely long arms, which is something I have played against a lot in games, but I haven't been able to practice against for awhile," Harris-Tunks said. "It's definitely good for me to practice scoring over the length that they have."

October growing pains

Despite all of the hype surrounding the Buffs, Boyle knows his staff can't just roll out a rack of balls and expect the program to roll into the postseason again.

During the first week of practice, CU's promising six-man recruiting class is being asked to play defense and execute offensive sets at a much higher level than they're accustomed to.

Which makes Boyle's third herd of Buffs a work in progress.

"Our talent is ahead of both of them. We're a talented group," Boyle said. "But defensively we're nowhere near where we want to be, and offensively our execution isn't anywhere near where we need it to be. When we score a basket, it's usually because we're pretty darn talented and we have good offensive players. It's not because we executed something to perfection."

Sabatino Chen, Roberson and Harris-Tunks understand that the CU program is built on defense and rebounding.

That's something sophmores Booker and Dinwiddie found out after some growing pains last November.

With a challenging non-conference schedule that includes three neutral-court games and three true road games, Boyle is hoping to instill his principles in the freshmen before the Nov. 9 opener against Wofford College.

"There's no question they're talented," Boyle said. "The execution and the habits are miles away from where our previous teams that I have coached have been, just because of our youth.

"There is no fast-forward button to put on youth. They have to learn every day by the situations they're put in in practice, and pretty soon they'll have to learn in games when they're put in the fire."

Of course, it's hard for Boyle to see the glass as half full.

What the head coach sees as poor offensive execution could be viewed as good defense by the five players working that end. Defensive breakdowns feel like offensive breakthroughs to those doing the scoring in the competitive sessions.

"We have glimpses," Harris-Tunks said. "But it's about the consistency and being in good enough shape to maintain a high level for long periods of time."

Walk-on woes

Both of CU's walk-on players, Beau Gamble and Kevin Nelson, are currently not able to practice due to injuries.

"It definitely makes practice more challenging, that's for sure," Boyle said. "People have no idea how important Beau Gamble and Kevin Nelson are to our program. They're hurt and they're not able to go right now. ... We'll improvise and the guys that are going have to stay healthy. It's not an ideal situation."

Jeremy Adams and Eli Stalzer were also not available early in the week due to injuries.

Players won't be able to crack this rotation without practicing.

"What I want to figure out over the next three weeks is how much we can count on them once the games start," said Boyle, who doesn't like to talk about injuries. "If they can't make it through the next three weeks, it's going to be hard for them to make it through the season."

Preseason reunions

Instead of playing exhibition games, CU will scrimmage SMU in Dallas and Northern Colorado in Boulder this season.

The Mustangs are now coached by Larry Brown, who Boyle played for at Kansas. Boyle coached the Bears before taking the CU job.

Per NCAA rules, coaches are not allowed to comment on the closed-door scrimmage sessions.

Media days

CU basketball media day will take place at the Coors Events Center for both the men's and women's programs. On Nov. 1, Boyle and Roberson will participate in the Pac-12 basketball media day event in San Francisco.

The Camera and Buffzone.com will have complete coverage from both events.

Follow Ryan on Twitter:

@RyanThorburn