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Newcomers for CU Buffs men’s basketball make most of first practices

University of Colorado Boulder freshman center ...
Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado Boulder freshman center Lawson Lovering, right, drives past freshman guard Julian Hammond III during a team practice on Monday, June 28, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

It was a quick transition for KJ Simpson, a sturdy week of work for 7-footer Lawson Lovering, and perhaps a frustrating time for the sidelined Javon Ruffin.

For all five of the rookies the comprise Colorado’s No. 11-ranked men’s basketball recruiting class in the nation, per, the first set of summer practices offered a blunt reality check. The college game will be faster, more physical, and far more demanding on the cardiovascular system than the game they played just months ago. Or in Simpson’s case, weeks ago.

CU completed the first half of 10 summer practices last week ahead of the program’s exhibition trip through Costa Rica in August. For that highly-touted recruiting class — Lovering, Ruffin, Simpson, Quincy Allen and Julian Hammond — it was the initial taste of a debut college season now only four months away.

“They’re a really energetic, competitive group that wants to learn,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Their heads are spinning a little bit right now. New terminology, new system, new teammates, a different level of basketball. It’s a process. But it’s definitely, relatively to last year’s team, you’re taking a few steps back in terms of getting back to your basics. It’s good for the new guys, but it’s also good for the veterans to kind of re-learn some things and reaffirm why we do what we do.”

Ruffin couldn’t practice due to a knee injury, and his status for the exhibitions in Costa Rica has not yet been determined. Simpson, on the other hand, jumped into his first CU practices just a week after his pandemic-delayed high school season finally came to an end in southern California.

“It’s basketball. You never want to stop playing,” Simpson said. “It was cool to win with my guys for my senior year, and then hop on a plane here and get to it right away. It’s been really fun, not only on the court but off, getting to know the guys and building a relationship with everybody.

“It’s a big transition. A lot of guys don’t really realize that, how fast the game is at the next level. I’m also making sure I get in the weight room. Making sure I put on a couple pounds but stay explosive. Just helping my body get in tune and ready to play with older guys.”

Much like the Buffs’ most recent international exhibition trip in 2017, the tour will arrive at an advantageous juncture for a new-look team. In 2017 a recruiting class that included McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, Evan Battey, and D’Shawn Schwartz had just arrived on campus, and they used the trip to Italy to get a competitive crash course with their new teammates.

This year’s quintet of freshmen will get the same opportunity in Costa Rica. All of them need to make use of the weight room before preseason practices begin in October, and Boyle said last week after the conclusion of his team’s fifth summer practice his team’s conditioning needs to improve. But CU’s leader, going into his 12th season, also was encouraged by the newcomers’ first impressions.

“Lawson Lovering is a little further along in the process of being an impact player than I originally maybe thought,” Boyle said. “I wasn’t sure where he would be physically when he got here. And he’s still got obviously a lot of room to grow in terms of his strength level and his weight. But Lawson, what I found early, he’s extremely coachable. He’s extremely bright. High basketball IQ. He’s the kind of player that you tell him something once, he does it. You don’t have to tell him again. That’s very rare.

“He’s going to be a terrific, terrific player at Colorado.”

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