Often, even by the end of September, Colorado sports fans are pining for the start of the basketball preseason. The football product usually proves indigestible after only a few weeks, and hoops often provides a welcome distraction.
Saturday marks the first day of fall, and it’s clear it’s not going to be the usual autumn in Boulder.
Cameras are everywhere. Colorado is inescapable in the national college sport media. The Buffaloes are the talk of the country.
Meanwhile, in the back corner of the CU Events Center, things are relatively quiet at the CU basketball offices these days. Which is saying something. Coach JR Payne’s women’s team is coming off its first Sweet 16 berth in 20 years and is primed for another NCAA Tournament run. Men’s coach Tad Boyle, entering his 14th season at CU, returns a tournament-capable core bolstered by one of the top recruits in the nation, Cody Williams.
Hoops fever should be raging as the men’s team begins preseason practice on Monday (the women begin practice on Tuesday). And perhaps it will be, in time. But as the basketball preseason begins, CU is immersed in Prime Fever. That’s just fine with Boyle.
“I’ve always felt like a rising tide floats all boats. I think it’s great,” Boyle said. “I think it’s great the attention the university has received, that Boulder has received, the state of Colorado has received obviously as a result of Deion (Sanders) and his staff and his players and what they’ve produced on the field. They’ve taken the country by storm.
“I’ve been a college football fan my whole life. Ever since I’ve been the head coach here I’ve gone to every home game when I’m in town. I think I’ve missed one or two in 14 years now. Nothing has changed for me except the hype, the excitement. The students are into it. You hope it spills over into basketball. Time will tell whether that happens or not. But we’re going to have a good team.”
It has been two full seasons since Colorado last reached the NCAA Tournament at the end of the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season. The Buffs expect to return this year in their final season in the Pac-12.
Leading the way is forward Tristan da Silva, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year who should be one of the top all-around players in the league. Point guard KJ Simpson balanced a hot start with struggles in the second half of the season as he battled through injury and illness. Colorado native Luke O’Brien developed into a solid all-around player last year. Forward J’Vonne Hadley displayed grit as an undersized scorer and rebounder inside before getting sidelined by a midseason injury, and guard Julian Hammond III is poised to build on last year’s impressive finish.
And then there’s Williams. Ranked as the No. 4 recruit in the 2023 class by 247Sports, the 6-foot-8 Williams will be counted on to make big contributions while the mantle of leadership falls upon the shoulders of da Silva and Simpson.
In the post, the Buffs added TCU transfer Eddie Lampkin Jr., but he will be slowed during the preseason while recovering from an injury. With the lack of experienced post players behind Lampkin, and the array of versatile athletes expected to comprise the rotation, Boyle said the Buffs expect to employ a five-out, more position-less approach on offense this season.
“We are going to more of a five-out system this year offensively,” Boyle said. “Obviously Eddie’s not working out with us yet, but he’s a unique player in terms of one of our bigs. But when you look at the rest of them, the 6-8 to 6-10 guys on the team, there’s a lot of guys who can play and a lot of versatility there. The five-out system I think fits our team. Eddie is our one true big, and the rest of them are guys who can space the floor and shoot threes. But they can play inside as well. Luke O’Brien can post up smaller guards. We know Tristan’s got great post moves. With our bigs this year, it’s more about attacking mismatches than saying this guy is going to be a low post scorer.”