In an announcement that comes as no surprise yet nonetheless will supply a collective sigh of relief for Colorado basketball fans, Xavier Johnson officially is coming back.
The senior from the CU men’s basketball team missed the entire 2015-16 season due to a torn Achilles tendon and, disappointed to see his senior year washed away, he made noise about exploring other options following the season.
Yet during his season-ending press conference on Tuesday, head coach Tad Boyle confirmed Johnson will return to the fold next year, adding a player who has averaged 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 95 games to a solid group of returnees.
“XJ and I talked yesterday, had a great conversation, and I think he’s excited about next year,” Boyle said. “He’s got both feet in and he’s going to be a big part of next year’s team. We know he’s a proven guy at the Pac-12 level.”
While CU is bracing for the loss of leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott, Boyle reiterated his belief that the return of Johnson, the addition of transfer Derrick White, and the continued growth of players like George King and Tory Miller will help offset the loss of Scott’s production.
Boyle also stated several times Tuesday that one of his biggest offseason concerns revolves around the leadership void Scott is leaving behind. After a year on the sideline, Boyle believes Johnson can help fix that shortcoming.
“That’s something I talked with XJ about,” Boyle said. “The thing that XJ has got in his conscience now is that he was part of the team two years ago that really struggled. Then he was part of this team, though he didn’t play, and he saw the togetherness this team had and the leadership it did have. So the challenge I gave to him is, what’s next year going to be like?”
“XJ has leadership capabilities, no question about it. He has to make a conscious effort to say, ‘I’m going to help lead this team.’ “
In other highlights of Boyle’s press conference:
• Boyle admitted, “I kind of wish we would’ve redshirted him as a freshman,” when asked about the up-and-down season turned in by sophomore point guard Dom Collier, yet he also expressed confidence in Collier’s ability to improve. The Denver East product displayed impressive growth in his shooting skills but struggled at times defensively and with directing the offense.
“Now is the time for him to make major strides,” Boyle said. “And he’s capable of doing it.”
• Incoming freshmen guards Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters will push Collier and current freshman Thomas Akyazili immediately for playing time. Both players are more akin to multifaceted guards than true point guards, and their chances of supplanting incumbents in the rotation will increase if either player displays a knack for perimeter defense.
“I would categorize both of them as combo guys, because they can play the point but they can get off the ball because they can shoot the ball well enough,” Boyle said. “Dom will be pushed, no question. Where they have an opportunity to make an impact is defensively.”
• After practicing with the team during his transfer season, Boyle expects White to be a difference-maker.
“He’s a special player,” Boyle said. “He’s going to be able to affect the game in a lot of ways. My only wish is we could have him for more than one year. Buff fans are going to really, really enjoy watching him play.”
• Boyle still is conducting his year-end one-on-one interviews with his players and did not rule out the possibility of roster defections in the coming weeks.