Throughout her career with the Colorado women’s basketball team, Kennedy Leonard did just about everything for the Buffaloes.
Leonard led the Buffs in scoring in her last three years with the team and she graduated as the program’s all-time leader in assists. When she was on the floor, she was the face of the program and everything ran through her.
When Leonard went down with a leg injury last year and missed 10 games, it was a jolt to the Buffs and head coach JR Payne turned to then-freshman Sila Finau.
“It was hard for me because I just thought, ‘Oh, I need to be like Kennedy. I need to do what Kennedy does,’” Finau, now a sophomore, said after a recent practice. “I mean, obviously I’m not Kennedy. That wasn’t how I played. So it obviously didn’t work for me.”
With Leonard now in the early stages of her professional career in Europe, the Buffs are adjusting to life without her, and that means shifting the focus of the point guard position. CU’s strength is now in its deep, talented group of frontcourt players.
“The difference in this year’s team is that there’s just going to be a lot more balance,” Payne said. “When Ken went out, right at the beginning of Pac-12 play, we lost our leading scorer, our leading steals, our leading assists; there was so much that was sort of wrapped up in that, that it was really difficult to replace that at the snap of the fingers.”
The Buffs enter this season excited because they’ve now had time to figure out life without Leonard. They’ll lean on their frontcourt and wing scorers, while turning the point over to the duo of Finau and freshman Jaylyn Sherrod.
“We have two really good point guards that are both really young,” Payne said. “They’re both very different. They both really bring a lot to the table and I’m excited about both of them.”
Finau, who started 13 games as a freshman, recorded 3.0 points and 1.3 assists per game and comes into the year with added confidence from the experience.
“I know what the coaches expect, I know what to expect for myself,” she said.
Although Finau may never be the scorer that Leonard was, she comes into the year more confident in her offense, while being challenged to score when opportunities are there.
“Yeah, I think so, but I’ve always just been pass first, pass first,” she said. “The coaches, they’ve been on me since last year, saying attack to score, not attack to pass. So I’ve just been working on that.”
Being the “veteran” point guard on the team, Finau said she has embraced the opportunity to be a leader on the court.
“I just knew I had to take in that role and just start doing what I think the point guard would do,” she said.
Sherrod was not a big scorer at Ramsay (Ala.) High School, averaging 11 points in eight games as a senior, but comes in as one of the quickest, strongest players on the team.
“Just straight energy,” she said of her strength. “I’m a real passionate player. Really energetic. I love playing defense. Just being that person on the court that’s always hype, always ready to go, and just a tough mentality and competitor.”
Finau and Sherrod don’t view preseason practices as a competition, but as an opportunity to make each other better so that they can tag-team the position.
Sophomore forward Peanut Tuitele, who figures to receive a lot of passes from the duo, said she’s enjoying playing with them.
“Jaylyn, she’s like a dog: tough, athletic, has bounce,” Tuitele said. “Sila is like that poise point guard, so they both balance out each other. Sila and Jaylyn both teach each other stuff and learn from each other and how to craft their game differently and I think that’s really neat because Sila doesn’t feel like she’s superior. She helps (Sherrod) because she knows the struggles of a freshman point guard.
“They both balance each other and do a great job getting each other prepared and ready.”