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Game day notes: ‘Best fit’ in play with union of CU Buffs, Cody Williams

BOULDER-CO-October 5:KJ Simpson drives on Nique ...
Colorado guard KJ Simpson (right) has gotten the Buffs off to good starts but is trying to cut down on his turnover rate. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Talents like Cody Williams don’t usually sign with Colorado basketball, even with the competitive track record under head coach Tad Boyle.

Williams, though, doesn’t fit the typical mold of the modern elite basketball prospect.

Williams, ranked as the No. 21 recruit in the class of 2023 by 247Sports, electrified Buff Nation this week by picking CU over LSU on national signing day. Beyond the diligent work of head coach Tad Boyle and his staff, several other factors played to CU’s benefit.

Williams’ older brother, Jalen, traveled a non-traditional path into the NBA, starring (and developing) for three seasons at Santa Clara before getting selected 12th overall in this past summer’s NBA draft. According to Boyle, Williams’ parents have a military background with a Colorado connection, as they once worked at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

“His older brother was a first-round draft pick this summer. Mom and dad are still going to work every day, out doing their job,” Boyle said. “They’re certainly proud of their two boys, and they have an older daughter as well. But they don’t live vicariously through their kids, and that’s very rare today with NBA-caliber talent. Which his older brother obviously is, and Cody is.”

Despite the completely understandable excitement around the program, and the fantasies of CU fans picturing the bulk of this year’s roster paired with Williams, Boyle offered a reminder that there still is work to be done.

“We’re not putting the cart in front of the horse,” Boyle added. “I think Cody picked Colorado because he’s willing to work. He wants to work. He wants to get better. He wants to develop his body. We’re so blessed to have him. He fits everything we’re looking for.”

 Young Buff

Boyle said the youth of the Buffs’ other new signee, 6-foot-5 guard Courtney Anderson Jr., was an attraction during the recruiting process. Anderson just turned 17 in August, mirroring the youth of former Buffs star Jabari Walker. Walker played two seasons at CU but still was just 19 when he was selected in the second round of this year’s NBA draft by Portland (Walker turned 20 on July 30).

“That, to me, is something we actually look at,” Boyle said. “Is a guy old for his grade or young for his grade? You have to evaluate them accordingly. When you see a guy at 17-years old who has the skills that he has, where’s he going to be when he’s 20?Well, when he’s 20 he’s going to be a sophomore in college. When he’s 20, he’s going to be pretty darn good. I’m not saying he can’t be good before that, but he’s going to be a special player.”

Grambling legend

The court at Grambling State’s Hobdy Assembly Center is named after the school’s most famous basketball alum, hall of famer Willis Reed. This week, Boyle recounted some childhood memories of watching the former New York Knicks star.

“I asked our guys last week if anybody knew who Willis Reed is. Not one guy knew who Willis Reed is,” Boyle said. “So there’s a lot of education that can be done. And (Grambling had) one of the greatest football coaches of all time in Eddie Robinson, and one of the toughest, under-sized center to ever play in the NBA in Willis Reed. I remember as a kid watching Willis Reed go up against Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain head to head. He was giving away four or five inches on both of them, but he was a battler and tough as nails.”

Legacy Series

The agreement between the Pac-12 and the HBCUs of the SWAC has been dubbed the “Legacy Series,” and CU’s game at Grambling will be the first road game for a Pac-12 club in the inaugural round of games. Oregon topped Florida A&M on opening night on Monday, and USC rebounded from its opening night loss against Florida Gulf Coast by defeating Alabama State 96-58 on Thursday night. Arizona also hosts a Legacy Series game on Friday night against Southern.

The final Legacy Series games on the men’s side will be road games for the Pac-12 teams, with Arizona State visiting Texas Southern on Sunday, followed by Washington State at Prairie View A&M on Tuesday. Grambling State is set to visit CU next season.

Cutting KJ turnovers

KJ Simpson’s debut as CU’s starting point guard followed a similar blueprint in the exhibition win against Nebraska as well as the season-opening win on Monday against UC Riverside. Simpson’s up-tempo pace and ability to share the ball helped the Buffs get off to quick starts in both contests, but he ultimately finished with an identical below-par ratio of three assists against four turnovers each time.

“That’s something I’ve obviously been working on a lot,” Simpson said. “I spent a huge amount of time in the offseason watching film, just coming in the gym and working strictly on passes, ball-handling. But the turnovers, I take full responsibility for that. I know as the season goes on I can’t be doing that stuff. Especially with a year of experience and my role being much bigger than what it was last year. I just have to cut down on that, and I will.”

Looking ahead

UMass, the Buffs’ opponent in the opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Thursday, won its first game under new coach Frank Martin (formerly the head coach at South Carolina and Kansas State) in a 94-67 decision against Central Connecticut State, but lost 67-55 at home on Thursday night against Towson. The Minutemen do not play again until they face CU.

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