ROME -— The best recruiting class in Tad Boyle's eight years at Colorado had its public unveiling Thursday night. The fact that it happened 5,500 miles from Colorado didn't matter to Boyle. Entering a season of transition in which he's breaking in five freshmen after losing his leading scorer in Derrick White, Thursday assured him of one thing.
He found himself a point guard.
McKinley Wright, one of the luckiest recruiting grabs of Boyle's career, showed he can quarterback a major college team as a freshman. Whether he can do it in the Pac-12 won't be known for a few months but against a mix of low-level Italian professionals who had already been blown out by Auburn and Kansas, he showed savvy, polish and speed in a 70-56 win.
Wright scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had a respectable three turnovers in 31 minutes. More importantly, he ran the team like the veteran they need him to be.
"He's got what I call the 'It Factor,'" Boyle said. "He's just got what it takes. He's tough. He's aggressive. He can score. He distributes. He's got a presence about him that I'm not sure I've had in a freshman in the seven years we've been at Colorado."
The game was the first of four on a nine-day tour of Italy. They already showed Boyle they're in mid-season fitness by playing a game after a two-hour tour of the enormous Vatican earlier in the day.
The No. 1 question Boyle wants answered on the trip is which freshman can play at this level. Only three were available. Evan Battey is out with a high ankle sprain and Lazar Nikolic remained home in Serbia with his paperwork still tied up with the NCAA clearinghouse.
Of the others, swingmen Tyler Bey had four points and D'Shawn Schwartz had three. But the 6-foot Wright took control, slicing through the Italians on fast breaks, finishing on twisty layins and finding the open man in traffic. He did it on the home court of Stella Azzurra, Nikolic's club team which groomed him for Colorado.
Remember, Wright had no idea he'd be in Colorado until last spring. From North Robbinsdale, Minn., he committed early to Dayton, fending off advances from at least seven Big Ten schools. But Dayton coach Archie Miller bolted for Indiana and Wright didn't want to wait to see if Miller would have another scholarship available.
Enter Boyle. Exit a sigh of relief.
"I'm ready," Wright said. "That's why coach recruited me. That's my job. Obviously I've got a lot of learning to do but mentally and physically I'm ready."
Boyle's other task is to find the leadership that he says was lacking in last year's down-and-up 19-15 campaign. His seniors came through Thursday. George King, the Buffaloes' top returning scorer and rebounder, had a team-high 13 points and game-high 10 rebounds.
Shooting guard Dominique Collier also had 12 points. That included one fourth-quarter stretch when he converted a three-point play, made a fast-break layin and another free throw then had a steal and assisted King's fastbreak slam, turning a 57-52 lead to 65-52.
But Boyle is looking for more than scoring from King and Collier.
"I want to see them talking to the younger guys," he said. "I want to see them talking on defense. You can't be a leader unless you open up your mouth. That leadership by example, I don't subscribe to that one bit."
Unfortunately, Collier is quieter than the Vatican on Friday night. The Denver East grad has one season left to be heard.
"It starts in practice," Collier said. "Little things like drills then when we scrimmage. Then translate it to the games."
Defensively, Colorado looked good at times. Italy went scoreless for nearly the first six minutes of the game and shot only 32 percent (22-of-69), including only 9-of-38 from 3-point range. But the Buffs, 25-of-60 (.417), were barely in the same country code before some wide-open Italians bricked treys.
On Friday the Buffs travel to Florence, with a tour of Siena along the way. They play tonight against BC Silute of Lithuania in Ponte Buggianese, about 30 miles west of Florence.