Without question, a changing of the guard is underway within the University of Colorado men's basketball program.
Yet while the Buffaloes will rely on freshmen to a greater degree than any season in recent memory, that doesn't mean a senior class that has endured all the ups and downs the game has to offer won't be every bit as essential to the team's success.
In fact, CU's seniors — George King, Tory Miller-Stewart, and Dom Collier, along with walk-on Josh Repine — will be tasked with leading the way for a sizeable group of newcomers one year after a lack of leadership was a major contributor to the struggles of a vastly more experienced team a year ago.
"It's really important. And if they don't, we've got to pass it down to our one junior or our two sophomores or our (seven) freshmen," said CU head coach Tad Boyle after he put his team through its first official practice of the 2017-18 season Sunday.
"In terms of early in the season, I'm going to have to lead this team. I'm going to have to be the bad guy. I'm going to have to be the guy calling people out and telling people what needs to be done. Hopefully as the senior progresses we have one or two, hopefully three people that kind of rise to that leadership challenge. We have some guys who have some leadership capabilities, but we're not there yet because we've got a lot guys who are just thinking about themselves and being good teammates, which you have to do before you become a leader."
King, the only fifth-year senior of the group, should be able to inform all the Buffs' new faces about any situation that might arise.
He was a true freshman during the 2013-14 when CU made the last of three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. He took a redshirt season the following year and emerged from that to win the Pac-12 Conference's Most Improved Player award for the 2015-16 season, helping the Buffs to return to the NCAA tourney. Meanwhile, the three freshmen King arrived with in the fall of 2013 — Jaron Hopkins, Dustin Thomas, and Tre'Shaun Fletcher — all opted to transfer over a two-year span.
King begins his final season as CU's top returning scorer and rebounder. He also is the top returning player from a squad that often lacked on-court leadership a year ago. King isn't about to forget those lessons.
"We have a bunch of young guys, freshmen, who need to be led and molded in the right way," King said. "Obviously it's up to the veterans to make sure they're molded in the right way. They're young, they've got all the energy, I see them bouncing around and I have no choice but to do the same to keep up."
As the Buffs begin preseason workouts, they do so with a total of nine players who have not played a single minute in a CU uniform. That list includes the five true freshmen — D'Shawn Schwartz, Tyler Bey, McKinley Wright, Evan Battey, and Lazar Nikolic — as well as redshirt freshmen Dallas Walton and Alex Strating, Missouri transfer Namon Wright, and new walk-on AJ Martinka.
On the other end of the spectrum, King, Collier, and Miller-Stewart all will end in the top 15 of CU's all-time leaders in games played if they come close to playing in all 31 games (at a minimum) this season.
"I think it's going to be a collective effort to see who helps lead," Miller-Stewart said. "It's not going to be just one voice of the team. Right now everyone is trying to help each other."