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CU Athletics
Colorado’s Peanut Tuitele puts a shot up against Tayanna Jones during women’s basketball practice on Monday at CU Events Center.

When the coronavirus pandemic sent Peanut Tuitele and many other college athletes home in March, she no longer had teammates, coaches and training staff around to push her.

A forward on the Colorado women’s basketball team, Tuitele had to figure out how to get herself going.

“It was a challenge in motivation for me because it just felt like I was by myself,” said Tuitele, a junior for the Buffaloes. “It was hard; I’m not gonna lie. It was hard to motivate myself to work out, but I just had to remember at the end of the day, it’s for my team – always for my team. When I put my team first, that’s when my mindset is right and when I want to work.”

Luckily for Tuitele, the time alone didn’t last too long. She’s been back in Boulder since July, and the Buffs are now a week into preseason practices as they prepare for the start of the season Nov. 25.

Despite the time off, Tuitele has come in ready to roll.

“We were actually talking about it in the office as coaches the other day, talking about Peanut as a freshman versus Peanut as a junior,” head coach JR Payne said. “She’s just extremely mature, she’s taken on a very personal role of leadership and accountability for herself and for her teammates. She knows what a great practice looks like, she knows what a great drill looks like and she’s holding herself and her teammates to that standard of excellence as far as training and competition.

“She’s everything you would want in a veteran. She’s working hard and playing really well and has added some elements to her game in the post that are really kind of fun to watch.”

Tuitele, a 6-foot-1 forward from Chico, Calif., has been a regular part of the rotation since she came to CU. As a freshman in 2018-19, she played in 26 games, with 19 starts, averaging 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Last year, she played in all 30 games, with 22 starts. She posted 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while increasing her field goal percentage (.500, compared to .468 as a freshman) and free throw percentage (.692, up from .632).

This year, she’s trying to become more of a threat offensively.

“I want to emphasize my shot,” she said. “I want to be able to come off and do a pull up (jumper) or shoot a 15 footer off of a ball screen. I’ve really worked on my 15 footer because I know I’m not the biggest or the fastest and in paint. I know I can score in the paint, but I want to add a 15 footer shot so I’m able to be a double threat this year.”

The other point of emphasis for Tuitele is taking care of her body. There’s been a physical toll on her body the last two years, but she said, “I’ve learned I have to get treatment. Every day, I get treatment before and after (practice) because with years come maturity, but also my body is taking a lot more.”