Experience, big finish last year has Keeshawn Barthelemy eyeing CU Buffs’ point guard job

Freshmen KJ Simpson, Julian Hammond also in mix

BOULDER, CO - Sept. 28, 2021: ...
Keeshawn Barthelemy during University of Colorado Boulder men’s basketball practice on September 28, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Colorado had the luxury of giving the ball to McKinley Wright IV and letting him run the show as a big-minute point guard for four seasons.

Last year, during the rare occasions Wright wasn’t on the floor, Keeshawn Barthelemy could step in and capably run the offense.

With Wright now competing for a roster spot with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Barthelemy has the inside track at replacing the CU all-time great as the Buffs’ primary point guard. Who will compete with Barthelemy, and possibly spell him when he isn’t on the floor this season, likely will be CU’s two freshman guards, KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond.

“I look at our point guard position as kind of a three-headed monster — Keeshawn, KJ, and Julian,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “All three of those guys are very capable. Keeshawn obviously has more comfort level in the program, with the terminology and everything we’re doing, because he’s been here for three years. So his comfort level and execution might be a little bit higher than KJ’s and Julian’s right now. And it should be. But KJ and Julian are going to be big parts of it as well.

“So I look at it as a three-headed monster, not one guy. And those guys will sometimes play together in the backcourt as well.”

As a third-year sophomore, Barthelemy has experience on his side. He also spent the offseason attempting to build on an impressive finish to what otherwise was an up-and-down first year on the floor with the Buffs.

In the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals against USC, after Wright was briefly knocked out of the game, Barthelemy stepped in during the first half to knock down a pair of 3-pointers while going 3-for-4 overall. Barthelemy also recorded four assists, matching his second-best total of the season, in CU’s first-round thumping of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament. Despite his limited playing time, Barthelemy still finished with a solid assist-to-turnover rate of 1.91 — which Boyle and the Buffs will gladly take if he can replicate that production in a bigger role this season.

“That gave me a lot of momentum,” Barthelemy said of his postseason performance. “I feel like last year was a mentality thing for me, just coming in and being ready whatever my role was going to be. By the end of the season I figured that out. And now I’m starting to figure out the leadership role.”

Barthelemy also spent two seasons practicing alongside, and competing against, Wright. Now the elder statesmen among the players vying for minutes at point guard, Barthelemy finds himself trying to replicate Wright’s daily energy at practice as the Buffs get rolling in the 2021-22 season.

“The biggest takeaway for me was that he was a guy that brought it every day at practice,” Barthelemy said. “Coach says we need some everyday guys in the gym every day, so that’s what I try to bring right now. Just being vocal every day and bringing the energy. Because it’s a young group, and I’ve got to lead by example with my voice.”