Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
The Bey file
The lowdown: 6-7 sophomore forward, Las Vegas.
Key stats: 13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, .541 field goal percentage.
Strengths: Rebounding, interior scoring, defense.
Weaknesses: Consistency, outside shot (though both improved down the stretch in 2018-19)
(This is the sixth in a series of nine BuffZone.com profiles reviewing the rotation players for the 2018-19 Colorado men’s basketball team.)
It was a moment that can make or break a season, and perhaps even a career.
As the Colorado Buffaloes battled to the wire at home against Oregon State on Jan. 31, ultimately losing a gut-wrenching two-point decision, they did so with their most dynamic player on the bench for the bulk of the final 11 minutes.
That player was Tyler Bey, who had struggled to a 1-for-7 mark with just four rebounds in 18 minutes against the Beavers before taking a seat. It was a questionable move by head coach Tad Boyle, who risked criticism by sitting one of his best players in a back-and-forth contest in which just one big play by Bey could have made the difference. But Boyle had seen enough of the occasional disappearing act by Bey, who often flashed the skills that will make him a future NBA prospect but also had a habit of going into a shell when the Buffs struggled.
Boyle wanted to send a message. That message clearly was received. Bey emerged from the moment as a far more consistent force, and it’s no coincidence the Buffs promptly reeled off a run of 12 wins in 15 games that turned a season quickly going south into one that featured two wins apiece in the Pac-12 Conference tournament and the NIT.
Bey was the focal point of that surge, shedding his bouts of inconsistency to earn first team All-Pac-12 honors as well as the league’s Most Improved Player award.
It’s not as if Bey struggled through the season’s first 20 games, culminating in the loss against Oregon State. He averaged 11.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting .520 from the floor during that span, and had turned in a few monster performances like a 23-point, 10-rebound effort in a home win against Colorado State, as well as a 26-point, 10-rebound game in a home win against Washington State.
However, like that OSU game, there were instances where Bey could have made a difference, but simply didn’t. He posted just six points with eight rebounds in a road loss at San Diego, and there also was the 1-for-7 night in a road loss against Utah. But credit Bey for taking that OSU game personally, as he emerged from that second-half benching like a player possessed beginning with the very next game, when Bey scored a career-high 27 points while going 9-for-9 from the field with 10 rebounds in a home rout of eventual Sweet 16 participant Oregon.
Over the season’s final 16 games, Bey averaged 16.0 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting .562 from the floor. He posted 11 double-doubles in those 16 games and was either one rebound or one basket away from notching three more. Bey finished the season with team-leading averages of 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds, and his 356 total rebounds was the second-best mark in CU history.
Bey finished with 17 double-doubles, tying the eighth-best single-season mark in team history, and he will go into his junior season ranked 13th in CU history with 19 double-doubles in his career. Bey also led the Buffs in free throw attempts (147) and finished with a solid .782 mark.
Already a premier rebounder, Bey likely will be motivated by being left off the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, an honor he had set his sights on the previous offseason (Bey led the Buffs with 44 blocked shots). While Bey certainly is a solid interior defender, the pending return of 7-footer Dallas Walton from a knee injury will free Bey from being tasked with defending much larger opponents as frequently as he did this season.
An NBA-level talent, Bey will seek more consistency from a mid-range shot that became more dependable from the baseline and the free throw line as the season progressed. Boyle also believes Bey has the ability to become a capable 3-point shooter, though he finished just 5-for-22 from the arc and didn’t even attempt one after that OSU game.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle remaining for Bey is to compile a complete season with the same consistency he displayed over the final 16 games. If he does the Buffs will be in great shape for an NCAA Tournament bid, yet it also will likely mean the end of his CU career after three seasons as the NBA beckons.