Jabari Walker is enrolled for fall semester classes at the University of Colorado.
Don’t start popping champagne bottles just yet, Buffaloes fans. While CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle did indeed say Walker is making the proper preparations for the possible next step of his academic career, that step also remains merely part of the process Walker is sorting through as he explores his NBA draft stock while retaining his NCAA eligibility.
With the start of the NBA Draft combine in Chicago less than three weeks away, Walker’s NBA prospects remain cloudy, as he still is not a unanimous second-round selection in mock drafts. Obviously a 6-foot-8 athlete with a solid outside shooting touch, and who led the Pac-12 Conference in rebounding, would be intriguing to most NBA front office personnel. Yet Boyle noted Walker’s decision might be less about getting drafted than making a connection with a management team willing to give him a chance even as a free agent, similar to how former CU guard McKinley Wright IV landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer.
“Jabari is truly I think 50-50,” Boyle said. “I think if he has an opportunity to leave for a situation he thinks is good for him, he will. But he’s coming to school, he’s enrolled for classes next fall. So he’s doing everything right in terms of keeping his options open. But I don’t think we’re going to know anything on him until the middle part or late part of May, if not June first. There’s a lot of moving parts.”
Boyle and the Buffs essentially were forced to go into last season with an open scholarship after transfer Mason Faulkner had a change of heart and instead moved to Louisville.
Boyle noted several times during the season that, in the transfer portal era, having the flexibility to possibly add a player at the semester break, or ensure an open slot when the spring transfer market hits, is an advantage. Even after the most frustrating season of his 12-year tenure at CU in terms of the volume of injuries — Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin missed the entire year, while Elijah Parquet and Lawson Lovering were lost at midseason — Boyle still believes retaining the open slot can be an asset.
It remains to be seen if Boyle will fill Walker’s spot immediately if the sophomore opts to stay in the NBA draft pool. If Boyle does bring in another newcomer, it won’t be because a 13th scholarship player might have proved useful during the injury-riddled 2021-22 season.
“If anything, I learned this year all you need is eight healthy bodies,” Boyle said. “That’s all you need when you have great chemistry, and we have that.”
While Allen (hip) and Lovering (knee) both recovered enough to be full participants in the Buffs’ spring workouts, Ruffin still is trying to get over the hump after being forced to the sideline for his freshman season.
Sidelined by an offseason dislocated kneecap a year ago that eventually required surgery, in addition to a clean-up procedure in October, Ruffin began practicing at midseason but was injured again down the stretch with a back issue. The back problem kept Ruffin out of the team’s spring workouts.
“He hasn’t had a workout with the team yet, so I don’t know,” Boyle said. “He has a little bit of both (knee and back), but until he’s healthy we can’t count on him. We’re just waiting for him to get healthy.”
Boyle said the non-conference schedule has mostly been settled, save for one open game that needs to be filled. The caliber of that game might depend on Walker’s decision.
“I want to get our roster set, but I want everyone else to get theirs set. We don’t want to schedule someone that has four open scholarships and the end up with a (weaker) team,” Boyle said. “So we’re probably going to hold that until May.”