The Colorado men’s basketball team already was facing a dramatic youth infusion into its rotation for the 2021-22 season.
Now the Buffaloes have lost one of their more experienced backcourt options without seeing him play a single game in black and gold.
On Tuesday night, guard Mason Faulkner announced via his Instagram page that he is leaving CU in order to be closer to his family in Kentucky. It was unclear if Faulkner still intends to use his extra sixth season of eligibility, but 247Sports.com reported Faulkner took an unofficial visit to Louisville on Tuesday.
Faulkner already has weathered a nomadic collegiate career, appearing in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as a freshman at Northern Kentucky. After two seasons at Northern Kentucky, Faulkner transferred to Western Carolina. Faulkner was a first team All-Southern Conference selection during the 2019-20 season for the Catamounts, averaging 17.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists.
This past year he was third team all-conference after averaging 16.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists while shooting .455 overall with a .355 mark on 3-pointers.
Despite exhausting his traditional eligibility, the 6-foot-1 Faulkner originally committed to CU as a graduate transfer intending to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 pandemic season. Yet even after committing to CU, Faulkner admitted relocating to the west would be an adjustment after rarely leaving his native Kentucky/Western Carolina bubble.
“I’ve never really been left of Kentucky on the states map,” Faulkner told BuffZone in April. “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment, but I’m excited and ready to get to work.”
Faulkner’s addition was supposed to give the Buffs a dose of experience to add to a backcourt that already was set to lean heavily on youth in the 2021-22 season. After emerging as an All-Pac-12 Defense selection last year, starting guard Eli Parquet is set to resume his role as a senior next season, but beyond Parquet the Buffs will be thin on experience in the backcourt.
Expecting to vie for spots in the backcourt rotation will be Nique Clifford, who played sparingly as a freshman last year, and Keeshawn Barthelemy, the presumptive favorite to take over the point guard spot from three-time first team All-Pac-12 selection McKinley Wright IV. Barthelemy played in 30 games last year but averaged just 11.4 minutes as Wright’s backup.
Also in the backcourt mix will be three players from CU’s No. 11-ranked recruiting class (per 247Sports) in the nation — KJ Simpson, Javon Ruffin, and Julian Hammond. Due to a knee injury, Ruffin is not expected to play during the Buffs’ upcoming four-game exhibition trip through Costa Rica. Faulkner also was not going to play during the Costa Rica trip due to an ankle injury the required surgery shortly after his arrival in Boulder.
Faulkner’s departure leaves head coach Tad Boyle with an open scholarship for the 2021-22 season, but at this stage of the summer it might be difficult to find a backcourt player with a level of experience appreciably beyond that of the players already on the roster.