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New walk-ons Owen Koonce, Isaac Jessup have something to prove with CU Buffs basketball

Local standouts expected to elevate Buffs’ daily practice intensity

Daily Camera file photo
University of Colorado walk-on freshman Owen Koonce was the 2018-19 BoCoPreps.com boys basketball player of the year.
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Owen Koonce and Isaac Jessup are bearing similar chips on their shoulders as they begin their Colorado basketball careers.

The recruiting process didn’t go exactly as planned. However, even though both local prep standouts will face an uphill battle in the quest for playing time, each in their own way perhaps were meant to be Buffaloes.

Koonce, a BoCoPreps.com all-region selection this past season at Centaurus, has a lengthy family background at CU. Jessup also is a familiar name locally, as his older brother Justinian starred at Longmont High before recently completing a standout career at Boise State.

CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle has brought both players on board as walk-ons in hopes of ratcheting up the daily competition in practice. Both newcomers expressed some regret at not receiving more appealing offers during the recruiting process. Yet both also are eager for the opportunity to contribute to a team they grew up watching.

“In my opinion they’re both Division I players. But for whatever reason — and maybe COVID was a part of this, I don’t know — but they were not recruited at the level that I think they should have been recruited at,” Boyle said. “Let’s just put it this way, if I was the head coach at Northern Colorado, I would have recruited Isaac Jessup and Owen Koonce every day of the week. I think they’re definitely Division I players who can help the team and help a Division I program.

“Now, how much are they going to help us on the court in games? I don’t know that. I think that’s yet to be seen. I think with both of them, one of the things we talked about was having an opportunity in practice every day to compete.”

Koonce is following in the footsteps of his father, Nathan, who was a walk-on for the Buffs for two seasons in the early 1990s. Owen Koonce’s mother, Kacey Engel, was a CU volleyball player in the 1990s and three other ancestors played football for the Buffs — his grandfather Steve, a running back in the 1960s; his great uncle, Ray Engel, who played running back in the 1950s; and even his great great grandfather John Randall, who was a lineman in 1915 in 1916.

At Centaurus this past season, the 6-foot-5 Koonce averaged 19.7 points while posting impressive shooting totals, recording a .564 overall mark and going 32-for-61 on 3-pointers.

“Everyone starts at the bottom of the totem pole. So I’ve just got to prove myself and work my way up,” Koonce said. “That’s pretty much my goal. I definitely want to graduate from CU. My goal is to prove myself, work my way up and earn a scholarship spot. Pretty much all of my efforts and my focus is in trying to accomplish that goal.”

Eddie Herz/Loveland Reporter-Herald
University of Colorado walk-on Isaac Jessup was the Loveland Reporter-Herald’s 2019-20 boys player of the year as a senior.

Jessup, who played at Resurrection Christian in Loveland, perhaps was overlooked on the recruiting trail because he stands five inches shorter than his 6-7 older brother. Yet Jessup’s skills compare favorably to his brother, who ended his career at Boise State at the Mountain West Conference’s all-time leader in 3-pointers.

Boyle also compared Jessup’s game to Devon Beitzel who, like Koonce, played at Centaurus before starring on Boyle’s teams at Northern Colorado.

“CU just presented a lot of opportunities for the future,” Jessup said. “It seemed like a win-win situation, because I knew if I came here I’d wind up a much better player than other situations to make myself the best basketball player possible.”