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Rooney: Long road the correct one in George King’s basketball journey

  • Colorado head coach Tad Boyle hugs George King on Feb....

    Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado head coach Tad Boyle hugs George King on Feb. 25 during senior night at Coors Events Center.

  • Former Colorado star George King, left, was drafted by the...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Former Colorado star George King, left, was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 59th pick on Thursday.



A word of caution to my media colleagues in Phoenix.

George King always is an accommodating interview. But getting those quotes will require patience.

Since he arrived in Boulder five years ago this summer, rare has been the occasion King wasn’t the last Buffaloes player off the floor after practice. For King, the day was never done until his post-practice shooting routine was complete. A set from the top of the 3-point arc. Another from the wing and then the baseline. A series of free throws and then do it all over again.

Drafted No. 59 overall, the next-to-last selection in the 2018 NBA draft, by the Phoenix Suns, King may or may not make his mark at the next level. The odds are against him, yet he has been dedicated to improving those odds and proving himself since he first dipped his toes into the NBA draft process a year ago before making his expected return to Colorado for his senior season. His story should be a lesson of the power of devotion and perseverance to current and future Buffs. Much like former CU teammate Spencer Dinwiddie this season with the Brooklyn Nets, King has quietly paid his dues waiting for his chance.

This spring he took advantage of those opportunities.

King certainly didn’t draw raves about a future in the NBA when he averaged 5.5 minutes and 1.5 points in 27 games off the bench as a freshman in 2013-14. Convinced a redshirt season would be more productive to his long-term future than another year spent in a middling role off the bench, King emerged from the layoff as a completely different player, going 8-for-14 on 3-pointers in his first two games of 2015-16 while scoring at least 13 points in each of the first six.

Despite that torrid re-start to his career, King was never “The Man” on any of his CU teams. Josh Scott held that role in 2015-16. Derrick White took over in 2016-17 before going to San Antonio in the first round of last year’s draft, while newcomer McKinley Wright bridged the generation gap on the Buffs’ youth movement by taking over as the floor general this past year. Along the way King had plenty of big his moments, from his sizzling re-debut to the 26-point, 10-rebound effort that led the Buffs to their first win at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion this past winter. Yet it’s a fair critique to say King didn’t carry the Buffs nearly often enough.

The thing is, he won’t be asked to be the man at Phoenix or anywhere else his NBA journey might take him. Right now that’s the job of new teammate Deandre Ayton, King’s former rival from Arizona who was selected first overall by the Suns. King has managed to improve a significant facet of his game every year, a trait that could very well have made King more appealing to the Suns than a more obvious choice, like Ayton’s Arizona teammates Allonzo Trier or Rawle Alkins, both of whom went undrafted.

After leading the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage after his redshirt year, King led the Buffs in rebounding the next two seasons. Defensively, King was much improved this past season. He compiled just 16 blocked shots through his first three years. He recorded 21 as a senior.

And about that redshirt year. Give credit to Boyle and his staff at the time — former assistants Rodney Billups and Jean Prioleau, along with current associate head coach Mike Rohn — for recognizing there was a much higher ceiling for King than what he showed as a freshman. And while King had to have his arm twisted a little before getting on board with the decision, give him credit for taking accurate stock of the big picture at an age when most players can’t see much further than what’s immediately in front of them.

If King doesn’t take that redshirt year, he doesn’t win the league’s Most Improved Player award. He almost certainly isn’t drafted in 2017. Taking the long road was painful at times, but in the end King was all the better for it — on and off the court.

“I had to sell it, and it makes me appreciate George all the more,” Boyle said. “The one thing you can say about George King is that he’s very coachable. He allowed me to coach him. He trusted me. Kids redshirt for a number of reasons, and the reality is he graduated from Colorado this spring. Academics were part of the equation in that decision. It wasn’t just a basketball decision. That sometimes gets lost when people see decisions that are made.”

Pat Rooney: or

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