The page has turned within the Tad Boyle era.
Under Boyle's watch over the past seven seasons, the Colorado men's basketball program has enjoyed an unprecedented degree of sustained success, a statement that remains true even in the aftermath of a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that ended with a first-round exit from the NIT.
Yet with a significant changing of the guard now complete on the Buffs' roster, the pressure is on Boyle and his staff to keep the Buffs in the annual hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth. And with five talented freshmen entering the mix for Boyle's eighth season, it's not a stretch to wonder if the success of the next few seasons will determine whether Boyle's CU tenure ends up being closer to one decade than two.
In a sense, the program already has moved beyond the initial buildup-and-climax that began when Boyle took over before the 2010-11 season. A season later the Buffs won the Pac-12 Conference tournament in their first year in the league, making the first of three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
A few months after cutting the nets in Los Angeles, Boyle welcomed a recruiting class that included Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, and Wesley Gordon. Scott in particular helped CU return to the NCAA tourney as a senior in 2016, but with Johnson and Gordon now officially gone after their fifth-year seasons, an entirely new cast will be charged with keeping the Buffs competitive.
Even with Derrick White now turning heads at the NBA combine, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
An argument can be made that George King ranks as the only impact player remaining on the Buffs' roster who was brought in as a freshman since 2013 — the incoming 2017 class and King's current toe-dipping into the NBA draft pool notwithstanding. In today's recruiting landscape, however, those shortcomings have been balanced by the ability of CU's staff to bolster its roster each of the past two springs during what has become an equally critical transfer landscape.
Last year, the departures of Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Kenan Guzonjic allowed Boyle to add Missouri transfer Namon Wright and forward Lucas Siewert. While Wright remains somewhat of a question mark after foot surgery kept him sidelined from practice most of the season, if he comes close to matching the 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds he delivered in his sophomore season at Missouri, Wright will give CU more in two seasons than Fletcher likely would have in his final year. And with an encouraging finish to his freshman season, Siewert probably already has outperformed any long-term expectations of Guzonjic.
While the loss this spring of freshman guard Bryce Peters certainly robbed the Buffs of some enticing talent, his departure alongside that of Thomas Akyazili allowed Boyle to bring in Serbian guard Lazar Nikolic and Minnesota guard McKinley Wright. Boyle believes the 6-foot-6 Nikolic can contribute immediately, and McKinley Wright could stabilize the point guard spot for years to come.
After Nikolic signed last month, and one open scholarship remained, Boyle said if they landed the young man they were targeting his program would boast "absolutely the best recruiting class in the history of the school, in my opinion." That player was McKinley Wright, whose skills at the top of the offense could, ideally, provide a perfect complement to those of incoming wing players D'Shawn Schwartz and Tyler Bey and forward Evan Battey.
Add to that equation 7-footer Dallas Walton, coming off a redshirt season as a true freshman, and 2016-17 freshmen Siewert and Deleon Brown, and Boyle will be trusting a youth movement to not only maintain the success of what generally has been an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, but to push the Buffs toward that elusive tournament success.
Remember, that's a task a unit with four fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior failed to accomplish this past season. The way-too-early guess here is the infusion of youth will provide a much-needed energy boost for the Buffs. While the final measurements might be similar — hovering at or above .500, surprising a team or two at home while inexperience costs a game or two here or there — the perception will flip. While the team that languished with those characteristics this past year was seen as underachieving, a young team that manages that level of success or beyond in a Pac-12 Conference that lost a wealth of star power can be viewed as encouraging.
The work of Boyle and his staff in assembling this cast of young talent, much of it bolstered through the spring/transfer recruiting market, should be commended. Now it's up to them to push that group beyond the heights achieved by the staff's initial cast of stars, guys with names like Burks, Roberson, and Dinwiddie.
No pressure there.