Starting spot still up for grabs as CU basketball rolls through China

Off-guard spot a question heading into opener against Arizona State

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Shane Gatling is still in the running for the starting guard spot with the Buffs.

Tad Boyle has an important decision to make.

His Colorado men’s basketball team might be half a world away, enjoying the perks of participating in the Pac-12 Conference’s annual game in China while preparing for Friday’s season opener against Arizona State, but one dilemma Boyle faced in Boulder has followed him across the globe.

Someone still has to fill the starting role at shooting guard for the Buffaloes on Friday, and the competition for that honor might continue right up until tipoff in Shanghai.

Four candidates have battled throughout the preseason for that spot — sophomores Daylen Kountz and Eli Parquet; senior Shane Gatling; and junior Maddox Daniels, the junior college transfer who essentially is the Buffs’ only newcomer this season. All four are expected to play key roles in Boyle’s rotation, yet only one will hear his name called during the opening introductions Friday night against the Sun Devils (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPN2).

“We’re getting closer. That might be fluid, too. I don’t want anybody to feel comfortable,” Boyle said before his team departed for China. “That’s the biggest thing. I want everybody to come to the gym every day, whether it’s practice or whether it’s a game, ready to do whatever it takes to help Colorado basketball be successful. Whether you’re a starter, whether you’re a bench player, whether you’re in the rotation, out of the rotation, I want everybody thinking like that. All of that other stuff will take care of itself. Just because it’s set today doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way long.”

If Boyle opts to go with more size alongside 6-foot point guard McKinley Wright IV, that seemingly would eliminate the 6-foot-2 Gatling from the starting rotation. The senior started 33 games last season and ranked second on the team with 34 steals, but as a 3-point specialist his game might be particularly suited to coming off the bench.

Though any scenario is possible, with so much experience at his disposal it seems unlikely Boyle would give an opening-day starting assignment to Daniels, the only newcomer to the rotation. That would leave Kountz and Parquet as the most viable options.

Kountz started blossoming late last season on both ends of the floor. He is the most versatile scoring threat among the quartet of potential starters, though Gatling and Daniels are considered more dangerous 3-point threats. Parquet got the starting nod in the Buffs’ exhibition win against Pomona-Pitzer, and if Boyle opts to go with a slasher who will focus on defense ahead of getting his own shots, Parquet will get the call.

“It’s certainly going to be fluid because we’ve got a lot of depth. And we’ve got quality depth. I’m looking at nine to 10 guys. It’s hard to play 11,” Boyle said. “Do what you do, and do what you do well. Certain guys have different skills. We know that Shane and Maddox are very capable shooters. We know Eli is probably the best perimeter defender of that group. So I don’t want Eli to pretend he’s a 3-point shooter. I mean, if he’s open and his feet are set and he’s feeling good, I want him to shoot the ball. And I want Maddox and Shane, and Daylen, to try and defend like Eli defends. They’re physically not as strong as Eli is, but they’ve got the ability to defend. Just like Eli has the ability to shoot.”

Wooden watch list

One day after getting named as one of 50 players on the preseason watch list for the Naismith Award, Wright on Tuesday also was among the 50 players named to the preseason watch list for the Wooden Award. Wright also is on the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the top point guard in the nation.