In just about every way, Kennedy Leonard was a leader for the Colorado women's basketball team this past season.

As a sophomore, she was not only the floor general at point guard, but she was one of top offensive weapons in the Pac-12.

With CU's offseason now underway, however, head coach JR Payne said the goal is to make Leonard "uncomfortable."

"She's always been the best player on her team, she's always been successful," Payne said. "Things have come pretty easy to Kennedy from a basketball standpoint, but if she wants to be great, if she wants to be special ... she has to be uncomfortable and it's our responsibility to put her in position on a daily basis where she's like, 'Get off my back!'"

That's all part of the team-wide approach Payne and her staff plans to take as they look forward to their second season in Boulder.

Payne wants Leonard and all the players to raise the bar after a successful first season together.

A year ago, Payne was hired to take over a program that had just finished 7-23 and was in a three-year decline. In her first season, Payne led the Buffs to a solid 17-16 record and a trip to the Sweet 16 of the Women's NIT.

"Extremely pleased," Payne said of her first year. "There's so many things that if you choose to really be on the positive side you can find a lot of positives."


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While the Buffs (5-13 in the Pac-12) often struggled with their shooting and weren't very consistent with defense or rebounding, they set a foundation of playing hard every single night. With a couple of exceptions, the Buffs were competitive all season.

"Not too many people outworked us once we stepped between the lines and I'm really proud of that," Payne said.

For the past year, however, Payne and her staff have handled the players "with kid gloves," she said. Not that they went easy on the players, but they wanted a positive transition.

"In your first year, we don't come in swinging a sledgehammer," she said. "You get on a ship that's moving and you try to turn it slowly and steer it and, 'All right, we're going this way.'

"We didn't really get on anybody or really try to change anyone's game. We tried to really work towards people's strengths."

To some extent, those kid gloves are coming off this summer, because for the Buffs to get better, they need some dramatic improvement in certain areas.

While pleased with the effort and competitiveness of her team, Payne said the attention to detail wasn't always there with fundamentals. That was, essentially, a product of not trying to do too much too early with a new team.

"In your first year, you're just trying to wrap your arms around it and pick your battles," Payne said. "There's certain things you're going to say, 'We're not budging on this,' and some things where you go, 'Ok, we're going to tackle that in the spring.'"

Now that spring is here, the Buffs will start paying more attention to the details - making better passes, using a jump stop to avoid travel calls, etc.

"I want to be able to play a game that's crisper and cleaner and sharper," Payne said. "It's a level of, 'That's not good enough; do it again.' Urgency and going above and beyond what you think you're capable of in the weight room and the court."

That's where the desire to make Leonard uncomfortable comes into play. During one-on-one sessions on the court, the coaches want to do things that might frustrate Leonard, so that she can learn to deal with it and keep emotions in check.

They also want Leonard to improve her shooting and be in control of every situation on the court. Having spent a year with Leonard, Payne is confident she'll respond in a positive manner.

"There's no doubt in my mind she's going to improve anything she sets her mind to," Payne said.

By raising the bar on and off the court, Payne hopes all the Buffs come back next season as better players.

"No one is where they should be," Payne said. "No one is where they will be. If you're on this team, you're going to get better. We just have to. Everyone has got to get better."

Notable

Guard Alexis Robinson, who tore her ACL on March 18 and missed the last two games, has already had successful surgery and is "doing really well" in the early stages of recovery, Payne said. ... Chris Sheckler, the director of sports performance for women's basketball and volleyball the past five years, has left CU to pursue another opportunity, Payne said. The Buffs are currently in the process of hiring a replacement.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.