After Colorado lost to UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, there was a lot of talk about what could have been. Once again, the Buffs had let a double-digit second half lead slip away, and their season was suddenly over. Most of the postgame press conference was focused on what had gone wrong and why CU was unable to come away with the win, but Tad Boyle closed his remarks with a strong statement about the future of Colorado Basketball. "The future of Colorado basketball is in good hands in terms of the players we have in our program and the ones we have coming in. We will be back here."
One of the most important players Boyle has coming back next year is power forward Wesley Gordon, who will return for his senior season after averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks this year. Despite having the lowest shooting percentage of his college career, Gordon averaged 7.2 points and proved to be a force on the defensive end of the floor. He was the perfect Robin to Josh Scott's Batman. In the game against UConn, he scored 9 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, both second best on the team behind Scott. He also blocked two shots.
The departure of Scott will leave a huge void in the front court, and there hasn't exactly been consensus among CU fans about whether or not Gordon is going to be able to adequately fill Josh's shoes. Wes has been a force on the defensive end throughout his Colorado career, and he's only gotten better as he's matured, but many have questioned his ability to lead the team in the absence of Scott. I was curious what Gordon's mindset about next year was, so I decided to ask him about it in the locker room after the game.
Like everyone else on the team, Wes was despondent after the loss and didn't say much in the press conference, so I wasn't really expecting him to respond to my question the way he did. The question, verbatim, was "What do you hope you'll be able to bring to the team as a senior leader next year?" Gordon looked up and said, without any hesitation, "Pretty much I'm gonna take the exact same role that Josh played this year. That's my goal."
This was not what I was expecting to hear, but it's a great sign for both him and the Buffs that he's taking that attitude into next season. In order for CU to get back to the NCAA tournament they're going to need leadership from what looks to be a very strong senior class. Tre'Shaun Fletcher, Derrick White, Josh Fortune and likely Xavier Johnson will join Gordon as seniors next season. They will all see significant minutes, but it isn't immediately clear who's going to step up and be "The Guy". Gordon's comments on Thursday make it clear that he thinks that guy is him. Couple that with Xavier Johnson tweeting after the game that he "won't let this happen" next year, and you've got two guys who seem determined to not only get the Buffs back to the tournament in 2017, but to advance in it.
Senior leadership is one thing that you can never have too much of, and it looks like CU will have plenty of it next year. Will it be enough to replace one of the best players in program history? No one knows the answer to that question right now, but Wesley Gordon thinks the answer is yes, and that matters a lot more than anyone else's opinion.