It never is the easiest part of the recruiting process, calling the coaches a prospect has gotten to know in order to tell them the basketball journey is taking him elsewhere.
Bryan Cantwell, the head coach at Chaminade Prep in West Hills, Calif., remembers last year when KJ Simpson made that call to Colorado’s Tad Boyle, informing the veteran coach he instead was planning to spend his collegiate career at Pac-12 rival Arizona.
According to Cantwell, Boyle’s reaction is a big reason why Simpson is the latest addition to a CU recruiting class ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
On Wednesday, Simpson made it official with the Buffs, the program that was a close second for Simpson during his initial recruitment. When Simpson was released from his letter of intent at Arizona following the firing of coach Sean Miller, the relationships Simpson previously established with Boyle and assistant Bill Grier made the Buffs the lead option from the start.
“They were really close. Like 1-A and 1-B,” Cantwell said of Simpson’s original decision between Arizona and CU. “But, when he called coach Boyle to say thank you for the whole process, coach Boyle immediately said, ‘KJ, we love you. We love your family. If anything happens in the near future, in the long term years from now, just know we are always here for you. We want you to be part of this Colorado family.’
“Other coaches were like, ‘OK, bye.’ Or ‘Good luck with that’ or whatever. The way that Bill Grier and Tad Boyle handled it, you knew that was the right 1-A and 1-B. I made sure to have (Simpson) do a Zoom call first with Colorado just to get all that back. And it was done. He had a call with Oregon but it didn’t matter. He was going to Colorado.”
The 6-foot-2 Simpson is listed as the 87th overall prospect in the 2021 class by 247Sports.com and the sixth-ranked combo guard. Simpson’s addition to an already-impressive recruiting class for Boyle and the Buffs moved CU’s 2021 recruiting class to No. 9 in the nation.
Simpson once was an AAU teammate of CU freshman Jabari Walker and also is friends with forward Evan Battey. Simpson already is the all-time leading scorer at Chaminade, which is in the midst of a delayed 2020-21 season, and he goes into his game on Friday needing only three points to become the school’s first 2,000-point scorer.
For Cantwell, what set Simpson apart at a young age was his defensive ability, which Boyle also lauded.
“We don’t just move guys up, but after the first practice (as a freshman) it was like all right, he’s going to varsity,” Cantwell said. “We moved him up and we were like, we’ll put you right back down again if you don’t do what you do every day. He goes, ‘Coach, you know I’m going to.’ I said I don’t know it so let’s see it. And it was non-stop from the get-go. We had a senior guard saying coach, you can’t take this guy out of the game. That’s how he’s always been. He just gets it defensively, which then allows him to go fast on offense in transition, because he pushes it really fast up the court.”
Simpson graduates in late May and said he is planning to be in Boulder by June 1. When he re-opened his recruitment, Simpson said the tone of the messages he received from Grier and Boyle hadn’t wavered since the conversations they shared prior to his commitment to Arizona.
“It was kind of crazy. When I first got my release from Arizona a lot of schools were calling me but Colorado was the first school that actually called my coach,” Simpson said. “One thing that stood out with them is they always have felt the same way about me. Nothing ever changed. It wasn’t every anything different. It was always constant with them. Showing how much I meant to them, and what I could do for them and the program, that really helped.”