Jalen Gabbidon has played in 78 games at the Division I level, won conference championships, and appeared in two NCAA Tournaments.
Yet the Yale graduate transfer admitted to getting a little awed last week. For an exhibition game.
“I’ve been through it many times. But playing against Nebraska (in last week’s exhibition), it’s a different vibe than mid-major basketball. It definitely got my blood boiling,” Gabbidon said. “It was like, yeah, this is what I came here for.
“Nebraska had, what, 3,500 people (officially 3,360)? Our gym seats 2,800 at Yale. So it’s a big difference.”
Gabbidon, fellow Ivy League transfer Ethan Wright, and junior college transfer J’Vonne Hadley are three new faces that will be counted on heavily this season as the Buffaloes get the 2022-23 season started at home on Monday night against UC Riverside (6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain). It will be the program’s 120th season, and it’s one that will feature head coach Tad Boyle eventually breaking Sox Walseth’s team record of 261 coaching wins, likely before Christmas (Boyle has 254).
Hadley has used a strong preseason to earn a likely starting spot. Gabbidon, a former Defensive Player of the Year in the Ivy League, and Wright, who shot nearly 40% from 3-point range last year at Princeton, should help give the Buffs an effective bench with multiple weapons.
“Jalen Gabbidon I think has really emerged as a guy who puts a lot of foul pressure on the defense,” Boyle said. “He’s a good ball mover. He’s very unselfish. He’s a really good defender. He’s a guy that’s going to be able to guard some of the other teams’ better wing players, and even interior players.
“I think Ethan Wright keeps getting better. If we have a 10-man rotation, they’re both in the rotation. I think Ethan Wright and Javon Ruffin are two guys who are kind of rounding into shape in terms of being able to be part of the rotation. I’m comfortable with both of those Ivy League kids putting them in at any time.”
For Gabbidon, the ability to fit in has come with some self-reflection. Averaging just over 11 points, as he did last year at Yale, probably isn’t in the cards. Gabbidon spent the preseason figuring out which of his skills will work best at the Pac-12 level.
“I think the biggest adjustment that guys coming from mid-majors have often is, ‘What can you do consistently at a high level? At the Pac-12 level?’ Coming in, I didn’t quite know,” Gabbidon said. “I knew I could do a lot of things well, but what is going to be the things I bring to the table every day? Finding my role has been every day trying to stick to guarding the ball, penetrating, attacking, drawing fouls. Things like that. That’s kind of helped me quickly learn what my role is going to be.
“And, these guys are easy to play with. It’s a great group of guys. Super unselfish. We swing the ball, we attack, we get out in transition. So it hasn’t been difficult after the initial week or two.”
UC Riverside returns its leading scorer in 6-foot-4 senior guard Zyon Pullin, who averaged 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season while shooting .473. The Highlanders (16-12 last year) have a third-year head coach in Mike Magpayo and another capable scorer in Flynn Cameron, a graduate senior from Australia who averaged 10.5 points last year and hit five 3-pointers in Riverside’s exhibition win against CSU Dominguez Hills.
“I know they’ve got a really good guard returning (Pullin). Everybody I talk to says he’s a terrific player,” Boyle said. “The kind of guy that makes them go. So we’re going to have some defensive matchups that are going to be key.
“Early in the season, our guys are going to have to adjust on the fly a little bit. Because the scouting report against Riverside may not be as accurate or as in-depth as it will be against teams that have played four or five times and we’ve got more film. There’s kind of unknowns we might run in to and you have to be prepared for that, both offensively and defensively.”
CU is 84-35 all-time in season openers and 10-2 under Boyle. Both losses were on neutral floors that weren’t very neutral — Baylor in Dallas in 2013, and Iowa State in Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2015…UC Riverside faces another tough road test next week. On Nov. 17, the Highlanders visit No. 9 Creighton…Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Buffs are tied with Arkansas for the top Division I winning percentage in November (.923, 24-2)…The Nov. 7 opener is the earliest in program history. CU twice previously opened on Nov. 8 — defeating Arizona State in China in 2019 and the same 2013 loss to Baylor mentioned above.