A new-look Colorado basketball team hit the CU Events Center court on Monday as the Buffs’ held their third of 10 summer practices in preparation for their August exhibition trip to Costa Rica.
Here’s what we learned:
Colorado’s freshman class is legit
A lot has been made of the Buffs’ talented freshman class, which is ranked best in the Pac-12 and 11th in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. It was clear on Monday that those rankings are no fluke.
With Western Carolina transfer Mason Faulkner out with an injury, K.J. Simpson took plenty of reps on Monday. Not many of his teammates could keep up with the four-star combo guard out of West Hills, California. Perhaps the highlight of his day came during a 5-on-5 drill when he cut off a pass and snatched a steal.
The now elder statesman Evan Battey, who was a spectator for most of practice, was thrilled on the sideline. Tad Boyle shared a similar excitement.
“(Simpson is) extremely talented, big time motor, very quick and can get by his man,” Boyle said. “As well a freshman we’ve had in a while. He’s really explosive in terms of the point of attack.”
Another freshman that stood out on Monday was 7-foot center, Lawson Lovering. A top-10 center in the Class of 2021, there was a lot to love about Lovering.
“Lawson Lovering is a little bit further along in the process of being an impact player than I originally maybe thought at this time,” Boyle said. “He’s extremely coachable. he’s extremely bright, high basketball IQ. He’s the kind of player that you tell him something once, and he does it.”
Adding a few pounds will be a focus for Lovering, said Boyle, but he has impressed in the paint. On the court, Lovering said he hopes to improve his shooting and reads on passes.
“Coach (Mike) Rohn and I have been working a lot on shooting (and) just being able to hit a mid-range shot and hit a three-point shot when I’m open,” Lovering said. “Being a big nowadays, you just need to have that in your arsenal.”
Keeshawn Barthelemy ready for a bigger role
Guard Keeshawn Barthelemy wasn’t particularly excited about a “tough” 2020-21 season in which he averaged 3.7 points and 11.5 minutes. He said his defense was lacking and there wasn’t much incentive for him to get more minutes. There was an obvious sense of dissatisfaction that he hopes will translate to growth his sophomore season.
“I definitely have to step up,” Barthelemy said. “With McKinley going, somebody’s got to take over and I think I’m ready for that.”
Barthelemy will have plenty of competition at the guard spot, however, with Faulkner, Simpson, Julian Hammond III and Eli Parquet all in the mix, to name a few. Freshman Javon Ruffin was absent on Monday with a knee injury but Boyle expects him to return in either August or September.
Upperclassmen continue leadership journey
After enjoying six scholarship seniors last season, the Buffs’ leadership dynamic may look a little different this year. Just Battey, Parquet and the fresh face of Faulkner make up CU’s scholarship seniors.
“I have a pretty good feel for what Eli Parquet and Evan Battey bring to the table,” Boyle said. “The rest of the guys, I’m not 100% sure. Keeshawn’s role this year is going to be totally different than it was last year with McKinley being gone.”
Barthelemy, who enters his third season with the program after redshirting in 2019-20, believes that providing leadership will be a team effort.
“I try to do my part every day and if I get the role, then I get it,” Barthelemy said. “If I don’t, then I’ll keep going and keeping doing what I do. I think it’s a team thing. It’s not just one leader on the team, it’s a collection of guys and what they bring to the table.
Although Battey was a limited participant in Monday’s practice, there’s little question how valuable his role on the team is. In just his first few weeks in Boulder, Lovering said that Battey has been invaluable to him.
“He’s my mentor,” Lovering said. “He’s always there if I make a mistake. If I’m doing something wrong, he’ll come up and tell me and he’ll give me constructive criticism.”