Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Like any player that has suited up for even a minute of college basketball, Tad Boyle distinctly recalls his first game.
While a freshman at Kansas in the 1980s, Boyle was just coming off a decorated all-state career at Greeley Central when he was sent into Kansas’ opening-night game against UNC. On Friday, six Colorado freshmen — D’Shawn Schwartz, Tyler Bey, Lazar Nikolic, McKinley Wright, Dallas Walton, and Alex Strating — will suit up for their first collegiate game against a UNC when Northern Colorado visits the Coors Events Center Friday night for the 2017-18 season opener (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
While the Bears from Boyle’s hometown will present a solid challenge for the new-look Buffaloes, Boyle faced an entirely different sort of challenge when he first hit the floor for the Jayhawks more than 30 years ago. The UNC he faced instead was North Carolina, which boasted a historic college basketball lineup that included Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Sam Perkins.
For a kid from Greeley, it was a bit overwhelming.
“I remember being nervous. I remember being really excited and just so anxious to get out there and show what I could do,” Boyle said. “I played three minutes and thank God we played zone so I didn’t have to play Michael one-on-one.”
The UNC team that visits Boulder on Friday obviously won’t be as daunting as that all-time Tar Heels lineup, yet the Bears nonetheless will present a tough challenge for CU’s youthful roster. The Buffs went through an exhibition game early last week against Division II Colorado Mines and got their first taste of Division I competition in a closed scrimmage over the weekend against SMU. Come Friday night, however, the youngsters will be expected to perform and produce.
“We’re all excited to just get out there and play,” Schwartz said. “You have to be able to play a lot faster. Make harder cuts, make faster reads. That’s all different stuff that will come as the year goes by. If everyone feeds off each other’s energy I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
Boyle recounted getting about two hours of sleep as he tossed and turned the night before his first collegiate game, at once excited about the opportunity while dreading an Air Jordan liftoff at his expense. The youthful Buffaloes obviously don’t have to worry about that latter potential embarrassment, yet battling nerves will be an inevitable hurdle.
“Number one, play with great effort,” Boyle said. “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. And do what you do in practice. Hopefully your practices prepare you for games. It’s no different when the lights come on. It’s no different when there’s people in the stands. It might be different to them emotionally, but it shouldn’t be. It might be for the freshmen, but all you’ve got to do is worry about playing hard, playing through your mistakes, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.”
Cause for concern
After generally getting dominated by SMU in a closed scrimmage Saturday, Boyle officially is concerned about his team’s ability to defend and rebound going into the opener against Northern Colorado. A team as young as the Buffs can be expected to battle more than a few flaws at the beginning of the season, yet for a program that generally has highlighted defense and rebounding as its most basic tenets, these particular shortcomings are problematic.
“We’re not a very good rebounding team, and we’re not a very good defensive team. And those are the two things we like to hang our hat on,” Boyle said. “We did some good things (against SMU) but we have to guard the ball better, and that’s really going to be true Friday night. And we have to guard the 3-point line better. We didn’t do either one of those things against SMU very well, and they really beat us on the boards badly.”