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Year 13 of Tad Boyle era set to tip off for Colorado men’s basketball

BOULDER, CO - Sept. 28, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado coach Tad Boyle is set to begin his 13th season at the helm of the Buffaloes’ program. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Glance around the CU Events Center, and it’s not difficult to note the changes surrounding the Colorado men’s basketball program.

The arena floor has been redesigned, as has the “pro wall” commemorating the program’s NBA alums that is the decorative highlight of the team offices. The roster has been overhauled as well, with five newcomers joining a mix that also features two other players returning from season-long injury absences.

And yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.

With the official start of preseason practices on Monday morning, CU head coach Tad Boyle is diving into his 13th season at the helm. It is at once a preseason filled equally by question marks and potential, with a little program history on the radar for the opening weeks of the season.

“I’ve always said if I’m not excited at this time of year, and I’m not looking forward to basketball season, it’s time to get out,” Boyle said. “I feel really, really energized. I feel excited to start the season. I’m really excited to coach this team. I’m anxious for what’s ahead. There’s a lot of unknowns, but I’m as excited as ever. Without a doubt.”

Boyle long ago outgrew the up-and-coming veneer and youthful enthusiasm he brought to Boulder more than a dozen years ago. In its place is the wisdom of experience and, perhaps surprisingly, a willingness to adapt to the widespread changes that have reshaped the game in recent years.

Detractors might lament Boyle as the sort of coach set in his ways, yet during the virtual recruiting period caused by the 2020 pandemic, Boyle and his staff finalized the highest-rated recruiting class in program history. And while Boyle remains devoted to the religion of year-to-year player development, the Buffs so far have fared well in the free transfer era. Tulsa graduate transfer Jeriah Horne fit in seamlessly while playing a key role for the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament team, and if the Buffs reach similar heights this season there is a good chance they will have received big contributions from Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright, both graduate transfers out of the Ivy League.

For Boyle and his staff, the transfer portal is approached as if it is a bandage, not a crutch. In the case of the ’22-23 Buffs, Gabbidon, Wright and junior college transfer J’Vonne Hadley join the core of the recruiting classes of 2020 (Nique Clifford, Tristan da Silva, Luke O’Brien) and 2021 (Quincy Allen, Julian Hammond III, Lawson Lovering, Javon Ruffin, KJ Simpson).

“We’ve taken the approach as a staff that we are going to plug holes in our roster — which we had some this spring, with Jabari (Walker) leaving and Keeshawn (Barthelemy) deciding to go into the portal — we’re going to plug the holes as best we can with graduate transfers,” Boyle said. “I still believe in recruiting and developing. That’s where we’ve had success. I believe in our staff in terms of our ability to develop guys.

“Graduate transfers, going back to Jeriah Horne, he was really, really effective for us. And obviously these two that was have this year I think can fill similar roles.”

Year 13 for Boyle features change beyond the roster construction. The three kids he brought to Boulder all are grown now. Boyle and his wife have a new home. He turns 60 in January, and with his 13th season leading the CU men’s basketball team, Boyle will move into a tie with Forrest B. Cox for the program’s second-longest coaching tenure. Sox Walseth’s 20 seasons is the standard, but Boyle soon will break Walseth’s 46-year old record of 261 coaching wins with the men’s basketball team.

Boyle begins the season with 254 wins, needing eight to break Walseth’s record. There is a reasonable chance the Dec. 8 home date against Colorado State will be in play for win No. 261 or even No. 262.

Boyle works on what is essentially a perpetual five-year contract and isn’t the star-on-the-rise name often linked to other coaching vacancies like he may have been a decade ago. As long as his teams remain competitive, chances are Boyle ultimately will re-set that wins record by a sizeable margin.

“It’s all based on how I feel,” Boyle said. “The older you get, the more you listen to your body and how you feel and what your doctor’s visits say. Knock on wood, I’ve been healthy. I want to hopefully stay that way as long as I can. As long as I have the energy, I love coaching. I love the University of Colorado. I love this program. I love what we’ve built. It’s a source of pride now.

“As I do look to the future, having an idea of where it goes without Tad Boyle, at some point that’s a thought that I’m going to have to sit down and really think deeply about. Right now, I feel that’s premature. I feel like I’ve still got a lot of gas in my tank.”