Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
When it comes to leadership, mum’s the word for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
As a season of promise and high expectations continues to erode into an even more disappointing campaign than the unexpectedly dismal 16-18 finish of two seasons ago, the time is ripe for a veteran leader to step up and take charge of a situation quickly spiraling out of control.
The problem for head coach Tad Boyle, however, is his seniors predominantly are the silent sort.
“They’re trying. But again, you’ve got to walk the walk before you talk the talk,” Boyle said. “XJ (Xavier Johnson) is our vocal leader, but he’s got to do some things to shore up his game defensively and rebounding. Wesley (Gordon) and Derrick (White) and Josh Fortune don’t talk. So they can’t be leaders.
“So XJ is really all we’ve got, but it can’t be one guy. It’s a team game. What leadership does is it holds those around them and themselves accountable. And right now, we’re not playing like we’re holding ourselves accountable.”
When the Buffs hit the floor Wednesday night at the University of Washington, it will be with the program’s first 0-5 start in league play since the 1995-96 season. Another loss would mark the first 0-6 start within the conference since 1992-93.
Johnson made the sort of winning play expected of leaders late in CU’s 71-68 home loss Sunday night against USC, just barely beating the shot-clock buzzer with a 3-pointer that put the Buffs ahead by one point with 43.1 seconds remaining. Johnson, though, also made the sort of play leaders can’t afford to make on Jan. 5 at Arizona State, letting a freshman backup goad him into a physical confrontation.
While Johnson’s ejection no doubt was a questionable officiating call, a fifth-year senior should have been able to walk away — especially after starting the game 6-for-7 in a contest the Buffs ultimately lost by just one point after playing the entire second half without him.
Of course, Johnson also has been one of the Buffs most consistent scorers, and, as Boyle noted, he hardly is alone when it comes to the leadership void afflicting the Buffs.
Fortune has seen his playing time dwindle of late due to a season-long shooting slump and poor overall production. Gordon didn’t log an official field goal attempt from the paint in 25 minutes against USC and has watched guard George King slowly catch up to him as the team’s top rebounder. And White, though steady for much of the season, has shot just 12-for-32 over the past three games, dropping his field goal percentage below 50 percent for the first time all year.
“We just need to stay focused, stick to the game plan. If we do those two things I think we’ll be all right,” Johnson said. “Our record is what it is, but a lot of those games we lost because of simple things. That (3-pointer against USC) doesn’t even matter if we do the little things. We didn’t guard the ball and didn’t do the little things early on. If we did those, it wouldn’t have had to come down to that shot.”