Tad Boyle simply calls it “The Book.”
There is a volume for each and every one of his previous 11 seasons as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Colorado, meticulously curated tomes detailing every mini-step in the journey to 233 wins, a .620 winning percentage, and five NCAA Tournament appearances (that would have been six if the 2020 tourney hadn’t been canceled) over those 11 seasons.
But these books aren’t merely scrapbooks stuffed with recaps and box scores. Inside are practice plans, stats from practices, scouting reports, workout plans, and progress reports on each player from the opening of practice in October until the final buzzer tolls in March. As the Buffs get set to open Boyle’s 12th season with the first preseason practice of 2021-22 on Tuesday, Boyle recently revisited the team book from the 2017-18 season.
This year could bear many resemblances.
Like that 2017-18 team — with freshmen McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz and Evan Battey (who redshirted) — the Buffs will be young and lean heavily on talented freshmen. Both teams boasted well-established seniors — George King in 2017-18, Battey and Eli Parquet this year. The Buffs finished 17-15 in 2017-18, but a foundation was established that, over the next three seasons, produced an NIT quarterfinal berth, more weeks in the AP top 25 than any season in CU history (2019-20), an appearance in the Pac-12 title game, and two (sort of) NCAA Tournaments, including the program’s first tourney win in nine years.
“I’m excited about our talent level, but there’s no fast forward button that you can hit for experience. This team’s going to have growing pains. It’s just a matter of when, not if,” Boyle said. “As I prepare for practice next week, I brought home the book from 2017-18. I pulled out that season specifically, because it’s going to be the same kind of team this year.
“We’ve got some leadership, but a lot of youth after that. Then I looked at the record, and it was 17-15. We’d better be better than that this year. I know our expectations are higher than that, and I know our players’ are too.”
The talented freshman class already lost 6-foot-7 Quincy Allen to a season-ending hip injury, but rookies KJ Simpson and Lawson Lovering will be counted on for production, with freshmen guards Julian Hammond and Javon Ruffin pushing for time along the perimeter. The Buffs have Battey and Parquet leading the way, and the next steps taken by CU’s sophomore class — Jabari Walker, Tristan da Silva, Nique Clifford, and Luke O’Brien — likely will prove critical to the Buffs’ fortunes.
“I always say as this time of year rolls around when the leaves start changing, if you’re not excited about basketball season, it’s time to get out of it,” Boyle said. “I’m as excited today as I was from Day 1. This is still the job I want to finish at and I have no interest in anything other than making Colorado the best basketball program it can be at a national level.”
In the six weeks between Tuesday’s opening practice and the regular season opener on Nov. 9 against Montana State, here are a few early matters to watch for the 2021-22 Buffs.
Find the range
The Buffs must replace three of their top four scorers, but in general finding points shouldn’t be an issue. Battey averaged a career-best 10.1 points last year, Walker could be a breakout star, and Parquet is likely to contribute more offensively.
However, CU must find a dependable 3-point threat. Schwartz and Jeriah Horne both shot 40 percent from long range last year. Add the loss of Wright and Maddox Daniels to the equation, and the Buffs must replace 70.3 percent of its 3-point production. Walker (23-for-44, .523) and Parquet (23-for-55, .418) shot well from the arc in limited chances and will be challenged to maintain those numbers in expanded roles. After that, CU will need one of the sophomores or freshmen to emerge from long range.
Giving the keys to Kee
Another player who could help from 3-point range, yet who also will have much more pressure on his shoulders, is third-year sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy.
Barthelemy is on track to take over for Wright as the Buffs’ point guard. After some typical first-year ups-and-downs last season, Barthelemy turned in impressive performances in the Pac-12 championship game and the NCAA Tournament. No one is expecting Barthelemy to turn in one of the top-10 single-season assist totals in CU history, as Wright did four times in four years as the Buffs’ floor general. But if Barthelemy can build on those postseason performances, and maintain the 1.91 assist-to-turnover rate he posted in limited minutes, the post-Wright era won’t be so daunting.
Play the long game
As Boyle noted, the growing pains for the Buffs are inevitable. In addition to the freshmen and the new point guard, sophomores like O’Brien and Clifford could play big roles after playing sparingly a year ago. CU won’t be finished product in November, or even by the start of Pac-12 play. Boyle’s biggest challenge this season might be keeping the Buffs moving forward, with steady improvement, no matter how often the young Buffs stub their toes.