SAN FRANCISCO — It wasn’t long after the 2021-22 college basketball season was in the books when Colorado’s Tristan da Silva sat down with head coach Tad Boyle.
At that point, the jury still was out on the future of forward Jabari Walker, who eventually made his departure official before getting selected in the second round of the NBA draft. Boyle made it clear during that conversation that while the Buffaloes undoubtedly would be a better team if Walker returned, his departure would open a huge door of opportunity for da Silva.
That time has arrived.
As the Buffs made the rounds through the annual Pac-12 men’s basketball media day on Wednesday, da Silva and Nique Clifford took center stage in representing CU. It was another instance of a changing of the guard within the CU program, as it marked the first time since 2017 that neither McKinley Wright IV nor Evan Battey took the media day stage for the Buffs.
Clifford and da Silva will both be counted on to blossom into stars if the Buffs hope to exceed the No. 6 slot they received in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. Yet it is da Silva, a 6-foot-9 forward from Germany with the potential to do a little bit of everything, who will shoulder the bulk of the responsibility in replacing Walker, the Buffs’ leading scorer and the Pac-12’s leading rebounder a year ago.
“Tristan is special,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “He’s had great mentorship with upperclassmen, and now he’s an upperclassman. The thing about Tristan is he’s an everyday guy. He’s turned into a guy that’s dependable, trustworthy. You know what you’re going to get from him every single day. And his development, he’s going to have a breakout year. Without a doubt.”
Certainly, da Silva wasn’t an unknown commodity when he first was recruited by Boyle and his staff, but there was some uncertainty. His older brother, Oscar, starred at Stanford, and Tristan planned to follow in his older brother’s footsteps by heading to America to play college basketball. Yet the bulk of his recruitment was handled via Zoom meetings due to the COVID pandemic, and da Silva never set foot on campus before officially joining the team in the summer of 2020.
Boyle said on Wednesday part of the reason the Buffs signed graduate transfer Jeriah Horne that summer was because they were unsure what Walker and da Silva could bring to the mix immediately. Both players acquitted themselves well, and two years later the reserved yet highly intelligent da Silva will be counted on to provide veteran leadership.
“I think it’s different on the court. I’m a different person on the court than I am off the court,” da Silva said. “It’s easier for me to have a loud voice, because I know what I’m talking about and I’m confident in what I’m talking about. I feel like I have the necessities to lead people with a loud voice.”
Da Silva started 31 games last year (he missed two midseason games due to a bout with COVID) and is the Buffs’ top returning scorer after averaging 9.4 points per game (10.3 in Pac-12 games). He shot .479 overall, .373 on 3-pointers, posted more assists (61) than turnovers (57) and averaged 3.5 rebounds in his first year as a starter. He will be counted on this season to improve each of those figures — particularly the rebounding mark, given the loss of Walker and second-leading rebounder Evan Battey.
“I think it’s also a team effort more than anything else,” da Silva said. “With Jabari leaving and our (top three) scoring leaders leaving, there’s going to be as lot of opportunities, a lot of possessions, where the ball lands in someone else’s hands. I’m willing to take those shots and I’m willing to make something happen for our team, but at the end of the day it’s a team effort. There’s going to be a lot of guys that get new looks and a lot of guys that are going to be able to step up this year.”