For two of the players in the top-ranked 2021 recruiting class in the Pac-12, Quincy Allen and Javon Ruffin, injuries made the 2021-22 campaign a lost season.
It wasn’t quite a lost season for Lawson Lovering. But it certainly wasn’t what the 7-foot-1 center envisioned when he arrived as a four-star prospect out of Cheyenne.
Lovering is determined to change that this season. The only true post player returning from last season’s team, Lovering’s continued development certainly is one of the top X-factors surrounding the potential of the 2022-23 Buffs.
Lovering has said on several occasions he felt as if he was turning a corner mentally around the midpoint of last season, but a season-ending knee injury didn’t allow Lovering to showcase that fresh mental approach on the floor. Now a sophomore, Lovering said he sought the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Steve Englehart, both in the weight room and outside of it, throughout the offseason.
“Steve, him and I had a lot of talks. A lot of weights in the spring after I injured my knee and we really got after it,” Lovering said. “It kind of switched my mindset on some things. Hopefully that can translate to this year.”
With Allen and Ruffin sidelined from the start of last season, Lovering’s combination of size, recruiting stature, and regional affiliation made him perhaps the most intriguing of CU’s rookies last year. But Lovering struggled to settle in.
Lovering played in each of the first 18 games off the bench, averaging 10.5 minutes per game. He shot just .302 on the season (13-for-43), enduring an 0-for-10 stretch over four games before connecting on his only attempt in what proved to be his final game at home against UCLA.
Lovering is a heart-on-his-sleeve sort of player. That can be an asset when things are going well. But when frustration set in, Lovering at times appeared visibly agitated on the floor. CU head coach Tad Boyle believes an additional season of maturity will get those moments out of Lovering’s playbook.
“I think the biggest thing with Lawson is just, intrinsically, he’s harder on himself than he needs to be,” Boyle said. “In some ways, that’s a really good thing. Because it means he’s going to get better. But sometimes in the short run it’s a bad thing, because one mistake leads to two and then the head goes down. And then two leads to three and the body language suffers and frustration sets in. It becomes a toilet drain. You just see it spiraling down.
“I think maturity is going to help him fight that. We’ve talked about it a lot. I’ve seen a huge difference in him this year. He still gets frustrated. He still wants to be perfect. He’s very self-demanding. But he really worked on it. CU fans did not see the real Lawson Lovering last year. They saw bits and pieces of it, but they didn’t see the real guy. He’s going to have, I think, a really good year.”
Lovering has added about 10 pounds since the start of last season (he’s now listed at 225). He and freshman Joe Hurlburt likely will share the five-role on the floor, and while Boyle has long lauded Lovering’s ball-screen defense, getting increased rebounding production from the tallest player on the team will help offset the loss of Jabari Walker, the leading rebounder in the Pac-12 last year.
“I’m lifting a little more weight in every lift, and I think my appearance is a little different than last year,” Lovering said. “I’ve always kind of had strong legs. This was more my upper body. I’m pretty flexible, pretty strong in my legs. I was working my upper body, really.”