It is the dawn of a new era of the University of Colorado women's basketball team. And under the direction of new coach JR Payne, some shortcuts the Buffaloes may have gotten away with in the past no longer will be tolerable.
In that spirit, Payne instilled a preseason conditioning drill in which her players had to complete a one-mile run within a prescribed time. For guards, that mark was seven minutes. It was seven and a half for post players.
To her surprise, a few Buffaloes staggered in past the deadline. Under the new regime, falling short of such goals is not acceptable.
"We always feel like they're capable of doing more than they think they can," Payne said. "For example, we set a certain time as a minimum time that they have to get a mile in. And we had a couple kids that were way far off with that time. We said, 'You've got to get it.' I've never had a kid not get this time.
"They look at me like, 'Are you kidding me?' And then they get it. We had two players over the last month that really didn't think they could do it, and then they both did it. That's a big part of it. We're huge on accountability, top to bottom. If you're playing 40 minutes a night or you're playing zero, the standard is the standard."
With new standards in place, Payne and the new-look Buffaloes begin official preseason practices on Monday. Here are a few plotlines to watch ahead of Payne's debut on Nov. 11 at Northern Colorado.
Senior Haley Smith is no stranger to playing an all-around game. She ranks as the Buffs' second-leading returning scorer and top returning rebounder. Smith was the team's top free-throw shooter (.881) and owned the leading 3-point percentage on the team, albeit in limited attempts (14-for-35).
In what is expected to be a transition season as Payne sets the stage for what she hopes will be bigger things to come, Smith will be counted on to do even more of a little bit of everything for the Buffs.
"Haley is going to have a big role this year because she's versatile," Payne said. "Haley is a kid that we typically would recruit because she can do multiple things. Versatility is a big piece of what we look for in recruiting. She's going to have to play two through four. I don't think she'll play any point guard, but if she had to I think we could throw her in there for a possession or two."
Toeing the line
As shown by Payne's insistence on her players making the required one-mile time, instilling a routine of discipline is high on Payne's to-do list during the preseason.
"The biggest need that this group has right now is to really work on our discipline from a basketball standpoint," Payne said. "I think we've trained harder than before, at least that's what they've said. From a work ethic and toughness standpoint, we're where I think we need to be. From a discipline standpoint is really what we're going to hammer the first couple weeks of practice, just really focusing on the details of what we're doing."
Chances are, the Buffs won't end a run of two consecutive losing seasons and will be pressed to improve on the 14-40 Pac-12 mark compiled over the past three seasons. Instead, laying a foundation of success and playing to her team's limited strengths will be the key to the Buffs' development.
"We figure there's no point in being average at 20 things when you can be really good at five things," Payne said. "We really try not to move on and throw in a bunch of new stuff and just be average at all of it. So we're going to hammer them on the details and get really good at the basics before we move on."