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CU Buffs men’s basketball notes: KJ Simpson hits ground running at first practice

McKinley Wright IV turns in solid day at NBA Draft Combine

There is hitting the ground running. And then there is the whirlwind KJ Simpson has had to endure in recent days.

A week ago, the Colorado men’s basketball recruit was finishing his delayed high school season in Southern California. He arrived in Boulder on Sunday, and soon dove into all of the requisite health and medical examinations.

On Thursday, the Buffs went through the first of 10 summer practices ahead of the team’s exhibition tour later this summer in Costa Rica, which begins Aug. 12. It was the first day Simpson was cleared to participate following his post-arrival tests, and he took his spot amid a CU freshman class ranked as the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation by 247Sports.com.

“It was spirited and the guys had a lot of energy,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Obviously there’s a lot of new faces so there’s new energy in the gym, which is good. Our veteran guys I thought did a good job. (Sophomores) Luke O’Brien and Nique Clifford look like they’re much improved. Evan (Battey) and Eli (Parquet) are pretty steady as veterans, and Keeshawn (Barthelemy) keeps getting better each year. Our veterans did a good job and our new faces, it was good to have them out there.”

Boyle is planning to oversee practices on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week, with the last five of the summer practices planned for the days leading into the Costa Rica trip. Beginning Monday, the workouts will be open to the media, allowing for the first outside glimpse of the Buffs’ practices since the pre-pandemic end of the 2019-20 season.

It wasn’t quite a full workout on Thursday. Forward Jabari Walker is in Texas at the tryout camp for the USA Basketball U19 World Cup team, and fellow sophomore Tristan da Silva is home in Germany visiting family. Boyle also said a few players were held out due to injury issues, but none are considered serious.

“KJ Simpson, it was literally his first day,” Boyle said. “When they get here, they have to go through all their compliance paperwork and physicals and get medically cleared. We’re minus a few guys due to injuries, and obviously Jabari and Tristan aren’t here. It was a skeleton crew, but it was a good workout.”

Holding pattern

Boyle said he still is waiting to announce a hiring for his vacant staff position of Director of Player Development. Former Buffs guard Nate Tomlinson held that post the past two seasons, but he left CU during the spring to take an assistant coach job under former CU assistant Kim English at George Mason.

“It’s still up in the air,” Boyle said.

Wright stuff

Former CU point guard McKinley Wright IV is doing his best to make an impression with NBA scouts and front office personnel.

During his first five-on-five scrimmage Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Wright turned in a solid all-around game. Wright shot just 2-for-7 overall, but he made his only 3-point attempt and finished with nine assists against only two turnovers in nearly 23 minutes. Wright also grabbed five rebounds and, according to ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony, turned in an impressive effort at the other end of the floor as well.

According to a tweet from Givony, Wright was, “playing lockdown defense all game and making some great reads passing out of PNR (pick and roll). Good first game for him at the NBA Combine.”