In college basketball, the start of official summer workouts is like the baseball equivalent of spring training.
It is a time to look ahead toward the season looming slightly larger on the horizon. And, given nearly every team ends the previous year on a losing note, it is a time to recharge and forget about whatever disappointment might still be lingering from the previous March.
For the Colorado men’s basketball team, that disappointment certainly was gut-wrenching. Not only did a CU team that was ranked in the national top 25 more frequently than any other Buffaloes team in history end a promising season with a five-game losing streak, but CU’s much-anticipated return to the NCAA Tournament was erased by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, coach Tad Boyle and his players returned to the practice court in small groups, and with a very limited time allotment for official workouts. Yet after being sidelined since March, it was a welcome return to at least a small semblance of normalcy.
“We’re using what they call functional groups. We’re in smaller groups. It’s been really good,” Boyle said. “Given what everybody has been through the last four or five months — mentally, emotionally and socially—anybody who takes for granted just the ability to get into a gym is crazy. That’s something our players have been asking about pretty much all summer. ‘Coach, when can we get in the gym?’ Obviously on June 15 they were able to do it on their own from a voluntary standpoint. July 20 was the first day the NCAA allowed us to be in there with them and have summer access.”
Boyle and his staff, including new assistant coach Rick Ray, are allowed eight hours per week of supervised instruction with the team, and Boyle said the Buffs are dividing that time between the weight room and on-court drills.
Though the start of the basketball season could still very well be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, this week’s workouts marked the start of a journey for a 2020-21 club that will feature an intriguing mix of veterans (seniors D’Shawn Schwartz, McKinley Wright IV, Jeriah Horne, Alex Strating, and Maddox Daniels; plus a senior in Dallas Walton who still has potential eligibility alongside fourth-year junior Evan Battey) and newcomers.
In addition to Horne, a graduate transfer from Tulsa, the Buffs also have seven freshmen in the mix, a list that includes redshirt freshman Keeshawn Barthelemy as well as two new freshmen walk-ons. Absent from this week’s workouts is German recruit Tristan da Silva, who still is sorting through his international paperwork.
“I think what’s lost in this whole thing sometimes, and it came through to me on the first day of our workouts, was just the smiles and the energy on our players’ faces,” Boyle said. “You forget about the mental health of young people sometimes. When things that they love are taken away from them, and they’re not allowed to do it, it’s really, really encouraging to see them come back with that attitude.
“The one thing I believe in my heart is that I think the players are safer in our facilities, and under the guidance of our trainers and strength coaches and athletic department, than they are outside. So from that standpoint, it’s great to have them back. I’m glad they all came back healthy and they’re all safe. We want to keep them that way and we want them to act respectfully and responsibly when they’re outside the Events Center and our campus. I’m hopeful that they’ll do that.”