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Costa Rica trip a chance for new-look CU men’s basketball to mesh on, off court

Evan Battey observes similarities to CU’s last international exhibition trip

From left: University of Colorado Boulder's ...
Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
From left: University of Colorado Boulder’s Keeshawn Barthelemy (No. 3) and KJ Simpson (No. 2) run a drill during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

As Evan Battey looks around and watches his youthful teammates packing their bags for Costa Rica, it’s difficult to suppress a smile at the all-too familiar memories.

The last time the Colorado men’s basketball team took off for an international exhibition trip four years ago to Italy, Battey and his classmates — McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, and D’Shawn Schwartz — were the pillars of an incoming recruiting class expecting to return the Buffs to the heights enjoyed during the early years of coach Tad Boyle’s CU tenure.

They did just that, securing a likely berth to the 2020 NCAA Tournament that never happened due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic before reaching the 2021 tournament and routing Georgetown in the first round. Bey was a second-round NBA draft pick last year. Wright went undrafted this summer but landed a two-way contract with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. Both players, along with Schwartz, were 1,000-point scorers, while Wright also graduated as the Buffs’ all-time assists leader.

By virtue of the redshirt year he took as a true freshman, Battey still is at CU. And as the Buffs set out for a four-game trip in Costa Rica that begins Friday night, Battey sees similar potential in the current freshman class — Quincy Allen, Julian Hammond, Lawson Lovering, Javon Ruffin, and KJ Simpson — as his class boasted when they set out for Italy in the four years that seems like another lifetime ago.

“Our young guys are so promising,” Battey said. “It’s interesting me being on the opposite side of the coin. When I was a freshman coming in, I was a part of the talented recruiting class. We had a couple seniors like George King and Dom Collier and Tory Miller. Now it’s me and Eli (Parquet) kind of filling for GK and Dom Collier’s role.

“GK saw what we could be, our group of freshmen. I’m seeing kind of the same thing right now. So much promise on all fronts. The guards are spectacular and Lawson is going to be great. That core is going to be really great for Colorado basketball.”

Although Ruffin will not play in the games as he continues to recover from a knee injury, the Costa Rica trip will mark the first taste of competition for a recruiting class now ranked 12th in the nation by 247Sports.com.

Of course, the trip will offer a new-look team an opportunity to bond beyond the four-games-in-four days basketball schedule in San Jose. After the games, the Buffs will relocate to Los Suenos along the Pacific coast to enjoy excursions like a zip line tour and a visit to a coffee plantation. One experience Boyle said he was looking forward to — a basketball day camp hosted by the Buffs at a local orphanage — has been canceled due to COVID concerns.

Basketball-wise, Boyle said it’s far too early to begin evaluating on-floor combinations with his new-look club. Given the Buffs are embarking on the trip uncertain of which teams specifically they will play, Boyle simply is looking forward to seeing how the Buffs respond to outside competition after battling one another through 10 summer practices.

“I just want them to have a better understanding of what we expect,” Boyle said. “I want them to have a better understanding of their teammates. I want them to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. It’s so much easier as a coach when you can just focus on your five guys and I’m not worried about our opponent. Right now at practice I’m worried about 10 guys, and if the offense does something good you’re mad at the defense. If the defense does something good, you’re mad at the offense. That’s why playing against somebody else is really, really helpful.”

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