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How Tad Boyle and the Buffs plan to replace Evan Battey and Jabari Walker

Jake Schwanitz Avatar
October 7, 2022

Buffs basketball is nearly back.

Evan Battey and Jabari Walker have moved on to the professional ranks while Elijah Parquet and Keeshawn Barthelemy hit the transfer portal leaving this year’s team with plenty of questions to answer.

Who will jump in and fill the leadership void left by Battey? Who will lead the team in scoring? Do the Buffs have enough size to compete with the best in the PAC-12?

Tad Boyle, in his 13th season as the Colorado’s head coach, recently spoke about how the program plans to answer those questions.

While CU’s younger players will be asked to grow up fast to fill positions left by players that are no longer here, Boyle thinks this year’s team could follow a similar trajectory as last year’s.

“I think it’s gonna be a team a lot like last year’s in the sense that early, we may struggle a little bit,” Boyle said. “We’ve got some returning guys that have to step up into different roles and be everyday guys.”

In his first year on the court for the Buffs, KJ Simpson came off the bench but made the PAC-12 Conference All-Freshman Team. Simpson led the Buffs in assists and steals last year but showed glimpses of what could come down the stretch as Simpson grew as a scorer.

Boyle raved about Simpson’s growth this off-season and his competitiveness on the court, but its consistency that will make him truly great.

“KJ’s got unbelievable quickness and speed,” Boyle said. “But his biggest thing is limiting his turnovers. He’s got always gonna have some turnovers because he plays so aggressively and with reckless abandon. He’s just got to be really smart. One can’t lead to two and two can’t lead to three.”

As Simpson looks to make the leap to be an impact player for the Buffs as a sophomore, he’s been leaning on former Colorado guard and current Dallas Maverick, McKinley Wright IV for his wisdom.

“I talked to McKinley a lot,” Simpson said. “I was asking him what’s the big step you focused on going into your sophomore year, he’s talked a lot about defense and I’ve taken pride in that.”

Defense has been the Buffs’ calling card under Boyle, and he sees the potential for Simpson to become as good of a defender as Wright was.

“He could be a menace defensively like McKinley was, he just needs to become that everyday guy that McKinley was,” Boyle said.

Nique Clifford is another Buff that will be asked to make a jump not only in playing time but production also. Clifford gave credit to Boyle for developing the third-year guard’s ability to play off the ball and become a two-way player.

“[Boyle] taught me how to play without the ball in my hands,” Clifford said. “When I got here, I really bought into the defensive side and realized how fun it is to lock up a guy and play great team defense as well.”

The bar was set high by Boyle who thinks that Clifford’s length and work in the weight room over the off-season will allow him to make plays all over the floor for Colorado this season.

“He’s got the ability to affect the game in a lot of different ways,” Boyle said. “Defensively, offensively, with the ball in his hands, slashing, cutting, getting out in transition.”

Clifford was also one of the players that Boyle mentioned by name when speaking about who can step up and become a leader. Clifford agreed and spoke about that added responsibility.

“The returning guys, including myself, have to have a bigger role this year after losing guys like Evan and Jabari,” Clifford said. “We have to step up as leaders to help the younger guys and the guys who transferred in that have no clue what our culture is here.”

One of those new transfers is former Yale Bulldog, Jalon Gabbidon, who is just as impressive off the court as he is on. Gabbidon was the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year three years ago and was the Bulldog’s leader in steals and second-leading scorer last season.

Gabbidon is also pursuing a master’s degree in Engineering Management at CU and is a co-founder of Launchpad, a fitness app dedicated to increasing explosive athleticism.

Gabbidon is roommates with the Buffs’ other Ivy League transfer, Ethan Wright, who was a do-it-all guard for the Princeton Tigers. Wright was the Tigers’ third-leading scorer and their leading rebounder a season ago. The Princeton graduate transfer was a 39% shooter behind the arc and made 50% of his field goals last year.

Boyle is excited about both Ivy League transfers and expects both Gabbidon and Wright to have an impact once they settle into CU and Boulder.

“They’re still trying to understand what our standards are, what Colorado basketball is all about,” Boyle said. “They’re quick learners and really smart players.”

Both players are taking a step up in competition joining Colorado and the PAC-12 via the Ivy League. However, Gabbidon’s former team instilled the kind of resiliency and effort that Boyle asks for from every Buff.

“Yale basketball is the toughest, grittiest hardest working team in the Ivy League,” Gabbidon said. “It didn’t matter what disadvantages we had or who was out on the court, we were going to compete.”

“That’s kind of the mentality I have is, at all costs, get the job done, if the job is to get a rebound, get it done. If the job is to make that extra pass, get it done,” Gabbidon said.

While it may take some time for Gabbidon and Wright to earn their role on the floor for the Buffs, a few returning players are going to be relied on early and often for CU this year.

According to Boyle, Lawson Lovering, Tristan Da Silva and Luke O’Brien are expected to step up and have big seasons.

Lovering missed the final 15 games with a knee injury but Boyle says the best is yet to come for the sophomore center.

“Lawson’s going to play, he’s going to play through mistakes and I think he’s going to grow and develop into a really, really good big man in the Pac 12 conference,” Boyle said. “CU fans did not see the real Lawson Lovering last year.”

Da Silva only averaged 3.5 rebounds per game last year but Boyle thinks that he along with O’Brien can help make up for the production on the glass that Jabari Walker was giving the Buffs a season ago.

“[Last year] I told Tristan if Jabari does leave it’s going to benefit you personally because you’re going to be able to step into a bigger role,” Boyle said. “I expect him to be a first-team All-PAC-12 player. I really do if we can win enough games.”

O’Brien primarily came off the bench for Colorado last season but could be in for a big season as the junior guard made strides as a shooter over the off-season.

“Luke was by far our best shooter this summer,” Boyle said. “He’s really developed his body and can help us rebounding too.”

The Buffs will get their first taste of competition on October 30th in an exhibition against Nebraska. Eight days after that it’s for real, as Colorado welcomes the UC Riverside Highlanders to Boulder on November 7th to tip off the season.

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