Alexis Robinson still has to stand off to the side and watch her Colorado teammates go through five-on-five drills.

The junior is doing more than she could a few months ago, however, and was thrilled to be with the Buffaloes as they held their first official practice of the basketball season on Monday at Coors Events Center.

"I'm feeling really good," said Robinson, who tore the ACL in her left knee on March 18. "For the most part I'm getting back in shape, but I'm feeling really good; my knee is feeling really good. It doesn't give me any problems. I'm just trying to get my body back into the flow."

Entering year No. 2 with head coach JR Payne, the Buffs (17-16 last year) will lean heavily on Robinson and fellow junior Kennedy Leonard. Eight of the 13 players on the roster are new to the team, and after an offseason of workouts, Payne was eager to get going Monday.

"It's definitely different (from workouts)," Payne sad. "It felt more live. The whole vibe and feel was exciting and fun and energized.

"We've got a lot of work to do."

Much of the offseason was spent working on basic fundamentals, but also teaching the newcomers how to play in Payne's system. Payne was encouraged by the work that was done in the offseason.

"Now I feel like we're more equipped to teach them the X's and O's part because we understand how we want to play," she said.


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While it may take a while to figure out the strengths and weakness of this team, Payne has already noticed one difference from last year.

"We have more of a tenacious rebounding mentality," she said. "All of the teams I've ever coached have out-rebounded people. That's one of our things. Last year's team we weren't able to out-rebound people. I think our mindset this year is going to be a more aggressive, tougher rebounding team; at least I'm hoping."

University of Colorado Head Coach JR Payne talks with her team during the first women’s basketball practice on Monday at the Coors Event Center on
University of Colorado Head Coach JR Payne talks with her team during the first women's basketball practice on Monday at the Coors Event Center on the CU campus in Boulder. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

Despite the heavy roster turnover, Robinson said, "Give credit to the eight new kids because they're all great, so it's been an easy transition."

The transition on the court may take some time, but the Buffs have more than five weeks before the official season opener, Nov. 10 at Samford.

"Practices are fun, but at the same time we're trying to get better, learn plays and learn everybody's tendencies and play together because the majority of the team is new," Leonard said. "Putting all the pieces together and then coming out here in five weeks and playing a game I think it's going to be super exciting."

By then, Robinson should be good to go. The last step in her recovery is to be cleared for live, five-on-five drills, and the Buffs are hoping that clearance comes in the next week or two.

"She's doing great," Payne said. "She's so strong, she's confident, she feels good. We played two-on-two the other day and she was the best kid in the gym. She looks like she's never been hurt."

When the injury first occurred, Robinson had initial fears of never being able to play again. Being so close to returning has her excited.

"It feels great to have a ball in my hands and be able to shoot and do things I couldn't do six months ago," she said. "It's great."

Schedule released

On Monday, the Buffs announced their schedule for the season. It includes a pair of marquee non-conference games, at North Carolina on Nov. 12 and home against Miami on Nov. 18.

"(The schedule) is great for this team," Payne said. "It's got a couple of real highlights and real tests, Pac-12 type of games very early. With eight new players, we need to be challenged, but we also need some balance, which I think we have."

Notable

Senior center Zoe Correal did not participate in practice Monday and has been dealing with knee soreness all fall. There is no structural damage, however, and Payne said she hopes to Correal back in the mix over the next 10 days. ... Payne said Leonard, the Buffs' standout point guard, is stronger, leaner and more vocal than she's ever been. ... While impressed with all of the newcomers, Payne said junior Janea Bunn, from Midland (Tex.) College, is explosive and agile. "She can impact the game in every single way, and we'll expect her to and need her to," she said. ... The annual Omni Hotels Classic has been changed to the Rocky Mountain Hoops Classic.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.