For Luke O’Brien, the first few months of college have found the Columbine High School graduate often making a beeline from practice at the CU Events Center back to his room as quickly as possible.
Instead of rushing across campus to get to class on time, fellow freshman Jabari Walker frequently finds himself simply logging on to his class from the locker room, still sweating from that day’s workout.
Adjusting to college life isn’t easy for any freshman, the basketball component notwithstanding. But in the dawning of the pandemic era of college basketball, getting acclimated has presented challenges to the freshmen on the CU men’s basketball team unlike anything their older teammates had to face when they were bright-eyed newcomers.
“It’s been tough in that sense,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been really careful of trying not to get COVID, so I’ve been in my room right after practice and stuff. That way I’m safe from all the stuff I can get. So it’s been tough in that sense. But sometimes I’ve got to make sacrifices to help the team and not bring that stuff in here.”
The Buffs’ talented and intriguing quartet of true freshmen — Walker, O’Brien, Nique Clifford, and Tristan da Silva — haven’t needed to find their way around campus much, as the Buffs are taking the bulk of their classes online. Their summer and fall workouts, which are critical for newcomers to start getting accustomed to the speed and intensity of the game at the Pac-12 level, occurred in fits and starts, and within small groups. Head coach Tad Boyle admitted this week information is getting thrown at the freshmen at a dizzying pace, and often immediately after practice they have to log in to a class.
“It’s definitely different this year,” Walker said. “It’s a lot easier being on Zoom. I kind of recognize that. You don’t have to go from practice to class. You just log on and we usually do some of the classes from here. That’s a little bit easier. Just having that time management. Sometimes you don’t want to log on to a Zoom class after practice, being tired. You still have to get that knowledge and get all the information that they’re giving you. Do your homework, even when you’re tired. And you’ve got to be ready to wake up the next morning and work. It can be mentally draining, but I signed up for it and I’m ready for it.”
Clifford this week said they have dubbed the freshman quartet “The Fantastic Four,” but it remains to be seen just how the newcomers will fit into the rotation. Without the freshmen, Boyle’s rotation already has seven players slotted for roles in McKinley Wright IV, D’Shawn Schwartz, Evan Battey, Eli Parquet, Keeshawn Barthelemy, Jeriah Horne and Dallas Walton. Because of somewhat tenuous depth in the frontcourt, Walker appears destined to be part of the forward rotation, and Clifford’s immense raw talent will be difficult to keep off the floor. That likely will leave da Silva and O’Brien battling senior Maddox Daniels for minutes as bigger wings off the bench behind Schwartz.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Clifford said. “We can’t get into the gym all the time and get shots up do other things that we usually would be able to. So that’s a little tough. So that means I have to do a little extra on my own. Watching film and stuff, coming in on my off days, just doing all the little stuff to prepare me to be ahead of the game since I’m a freshman and catch up to the guys who have been here. It’s definitely been tough with all the COVID stuff. We got shut down at one point, so we weren’t even in the gym for two weeks. So we were doing workouts outside and stuff, just doing anything we can to stay in shape and get ready for the season.”