With court in session, a new judge of character for CU basketball

Freshman McKinley Wright IV’s debut for the Colorado Buffaloes broke from tradition. Head coach Tad Boyle made it clear in the Buffs’ home opener that Wright would be driving this team. He was the first freshman to start since Spencer Dinwiddie (now with the Brooklyn Nets) and he led the team in minutes that night. Wright’s drives at point guard pointed to a new era for Colorado basketball and a refreshing one.

Last year’s team bottomed out. The juvenile behavior of then-fifth-year seniors Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson was exasperating for a team not living up to its potential. Both players were suspended and struggled on the floor. Even with Derrick White’s stellar 2017 campaign (which led to White being picked in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs), the team didn’t gel with all of the distractions. It’s a good thing Tad Boyle didn’t have any more hair to pull out.

It’s been interesting watching the ups and downs of the Tad Boyle era. Seven-plus seasons have culminated in one NCAA Tournament win and a Pac-12 Championship, both in 2011-12. That record is really selling what Boyle has done short. CU has won 20 or more games nine times in school history, and five of those seasons have been with Boyle on the bench. The talent Boyle consistently recruits is far above what Colorado was prior. NBA teams have drafted four CU players in the last six years. All four are still playing in the NBA — Alec Burks (2011, 12th overall), Andre Roberson (2013, 26th overall), Dinwiddie (2014, 38th overall) and White (2017, 29th overall).

They’ve made the NCAA Tournament four times under Boyle. The only other times they made the big dance since 1970 was Chauncey Billups’ freshman year in 1997 and in 2003. Boyle has brought unheard of success. He’s turned CU into a real basketball school.

That’s what makes a lot of the personnel issues so frustrating. CU has had the talent to be better than they have been, but guys like Askia Booker and Johnson were frustrating both on and off the court. Those players made it difficult for other strong leaders (including White and Josh Scott) to carry the teams to even greater success.

There really is hope that this team is a refreshing restart.

This year’s roster has already provided great games from senior George King. Senior Tory Miller-Stewart was finally maturing into a strong inside player before he broke his foot. Former Denver East High School guard Dominic Collier looks like he could finish off his Buffs career with his best season yet.

There’s Serbian Lazar Nikolic, who says that he defies the stereotypes of Europeans by being able to jump and play defense. Namon Wright, a junior transfer, is a strong scorer that can take over games. Going down the roster, the underclassmen all do things well.

And so far, everyone is likeable. This is a team to get behind.

It’s often weird being a CU college basketball fan. The measure of success cannot be a National Championship and varies based on talent level from a .500 record to a NCAA Tournament appearance.

What I love about being a CU fan is that you really become invested in the stories and the players. You follow guys through their formative years. It’s not always just about greatness, but is also about the value each player adds to the experience of watching the team.

It’s refreshing to start over. I don’t have expectations for this team yet, but I’m excited to have new guys to root for.