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Work just beginning as CU Buffs men’s basketball opens preseason practice

CU head men's basketball coach Tad Boyle instructs players during the team's first official fall practice on Monday at the CU Events Center. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
CU head men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle instructs players during the team’s first official fall practice on Monday at the CU Events Center. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Much to the relief of Buffaloes fans already eager to turn the page on the football season, the preseason portion of the 2022-23 campaign got underway on Monday morning for the Colorado men’s basketball team.

It was an interesting and diverse array of players on display for the Buffs in their first official practice of the season.

On one hand, the Buffs return two starters in Tristan da Silva and Nique Clifford, plus a pair of sophomore point guards in KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III who are more than ready to take on bigger roles.

Then again, it very much is a new-look squad, with two graduate transfers out of the Ivy League in Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright, two true freshmen in Joe Hurlburt and RJ Smith, and a junior college transfer in J’Vonne Hadley. The Buffs also are working into the mix two youngsters who missed all of their true freshman seasons last year due to injury in Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin.

Still six weeks out from the Nov. 7 season opener against UC Riverside, Monday’s workout marked the start of the journey for CU in the 13th season under head coach Tad Boyle.

“The culture at CU is great. Freshman year, I felt welcome. Sophomore year, we welcomed the freshmen. This year, I feel like I’ve known these (new) guys two, three years already,” junior wing Luke O’Brien said. “We hung out as a team every week, every day in the summer, and now I’ve feel like we’ve played with these guys for a couple years.”

As is always the case under Boyle, the Buffs expect to hang their hats on defense and rebounding, two categories in which the Buffs were either slightly ahead (rebounding) or slightly behind (defense) the curves last season.

The Buffs were decent on the boards a year ago, finishing fourth in Pac-12 games with an average rebounding margin of plus-3.0. CU needs to replace their top two rebounders from a year ago in Jabari Walker, a second-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers after leading the Pac-12 with 9.4 rebounds a game, and Evan Battey (4.7 rpg), who will begin his professional career this year in Bulgaria.

The results were less encouraging on defense. In Pac-12 games, the Buffs ranked fifth in overall defensive field goal percentage (.428), sixth in points allowed (68.2) and eighth in defensive 3-point percentage (.338).

All those newcomers soon will learn, if they haven’t already, how improving those defensive figures will be a point of emphasis over the next six weeks.

“The new guys have fit in really well early,” CU associate head coach Mike Rohn said. “We knew when we recruited them that they were that type of player. Obviously we get summer access now, so that was really critical in terms of getting them up to speed, learning our offense and our defense a little bit, and learning the other guys.”

Boyle warned his club probably will not be a finished product by Nov. 7, and that the ’22-23 Buffs could profile similarly to last year’s team, when CU endured some disjointed performances early but played their best basketball of the season in February.

Until the Buffs round into form, Boyle believes his squad will be a solid sharpshooting bunch despite losing the three players who made the most 3-pointers — Battey, Walker and Keeshawn Barthelemy — from a team that led the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage.

“We’re going to hang our hat on defense and rebounding. We’re nowhere near where we need to be in either one of those categories right now. That’s never going to change as long as I’m the coach here,” Boyle said. “I do think with this team and this personnel, I think we have a chance to be a good shooting team. I really do. We lost some good shooters. But we’ve got guys that can put the ball in the basket from distance. I think we’ll be a good 3-point shooting team. We were last year as well.”