When Mason Faulkner decided to abruptly leave a Colorado men’s basketball program over the summer that he had joined just months earlier, it opened the door for four-star recruit KJ Simpson to play a larger role for the Buffaloes during his freshman season.
Simpson likely was going to be part of the rotation anyway. So the biggest beneficiary, in terms of his potential playing time and role, of the oft-traveled Faulkner bolting for Louisville might be freshman guard Julian Hammond III.
Head coach Tad Boyle already has stated his early plan for the point guard spot vacated by former star McKinley Wright IV will be a “three-headed monster” fielded by third-year sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy, Simpson, and Hammond. The recruit from Cherry Creek is embracing the challenge.
“I feel like I’m getting used it more as practices go on,” Hammond said. “I feel like it was a really big jump at first in the summer. Especially because you go from high school to men, not just 15 or 16-year old boys. I feel like that jump was a really big jump. I feel like I’m getting used to the practice schedule now and all that. I feel good about it.”
Also a star quarterback at Cherry Creek, Boyle has spoken about his excitement at the prospect of Hammond finally devoting himself fully to basketball. Like his classmates, Hammond was able to get his feet wet at this level over the summer with CU’s 10 practices ahead of the four-game exhibition trip to Costa Rica.
While the competition on that trip was well below NCAA Division I standards, Hammond nonetheless acquitted himself well, shooting .571 overall (20-for-35) with an 8-for-17 mark on 3-pointers. Hammond also recorded 12 assists against just two turnovers.
“I just want to feel like I’m a lot better of a player when I leave my freshman year than when I came in,” Hammond said. “I feel like if I just keep on working hard every day, improving every day, that will be my goal.”
The easy comparison for the outlook of the young 2021-22 Buffs has been to look at the 2017-18 squad, when Wright, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, and Evan Battey were freshmen.
Boyle scheduled accordingly that season, with only two nonconference games against power-conference foes — a date at nationally-ranked Xavier, plus a neutral-floor matchup against Iowa that closed the non-conference slate. Recently, Boyle lamented the demanding nonconference schedule his young club will face in November and December, yet the most difficult aspects of that schedule arrived via happenstance.
The home date against Kansas on Dec. 21 that completes a home-and-home series was supposed to be played last year, but the schools agreed to delay the game a year due to COVID concerns. And the home game against Tennessee on Dec. 4 is part of a three-game series that was scheduled hastily last year as a coronavirus-spurred replacement game for both programs.
“The only thing I’m concerned about with this team is a little bit of our schedule. I might’ve over-scheduled for such a young team,” Boyle said. “But the one thing I know about these guys is they love challenges. And from a player’s standpoint, I know they’re excited about it. We’ll have to grow up fast.”
The Buffs will host an intrasquad scrimmage open to the public at the CU Events Center on Saturday ahead of the football game against Arizona. The scrimmage will begin at about 10:30 a.m., with the doors opening about 30 minutes earlier…Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet, along with Boyle, will represent the Buffs at the Pac-12 men’s basketball media day in San Francisco on Wednesday. Mya Hollingshed and Jaylyn Sherrod will join coach JR Payne at the women’s event on Tuesday.