May 15, 2008

Status report: CU men's basketball

BOULDER, Colo. - Jeff Bzdelik came to CU with both eyes wide open. He knew rebuilding the Buffaloes' men's basketball program would be no easy task. A year into the job, Bzdelik spoke candidly with the local media for over an hour.

"So much has happened in a year, in a very positive sense," he expressed. "With facilities [being improved], with just being organized with recruiting now, we're involved with some really top '09 prospects and we feel real good about that.

"Academically our players have made significant improvement in just the 12 months we've been here."

The Buffaloes suffered some expected growing pains on the hardwood this past season. Despite their less than stellar record, there were some positive signs:

  • Defensively, CU allowed opponents to just 64.4 points per game, the lowest average in 46-years at CU. The prior year they yielded almost 80 points per game.

  • The Buffs only turned the ball over 13.4 times per game, the team's lowest average in 28 years.

  • CU shot over 50 percent in 11 games and they had the third best field-goal percentage in the Big 12 during conference play.

  • The Buffs had nine losses at an average of 4.8 points. They lost six Big 12 games by one point, two points, four points, five points, six points and seven points.

  • Home attendance improved by 1,837 fans per game from the previous season.

    "That along with the [improved] facilities to me, that just gives testimony to the fact that we're headed in the right direction," added Coach Bzdelik. "Obviously we were 12-20 [last season]. I told people when I first got the job that I can't wave a magic wand and have this happen over night.

    "Baylor, where were they four or five years ago and where are they today? Texas A&M, where were they four or five years ago? They were 0-16 in the league, I think. And look at where they are today. Look at Arizona State. What were they? 1-15 in the Pac-10 [last year] and this year they should have been in the [NCAA] Tournament.

    "Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and I talk a lot. Coach K in his second and third years (at Duke), he was 10-17 and 11-17 and he had an alumnus put his finger in his chest after his third year and say, 'You will never last here, we need to get rid of you'. But they stayed the course. My point is that if you are going to build something with a great foundation, it just takes time."

    The latest on Jeremy Williams

    If he decides to stay at Colorado and he gains academic eligibility, forward Jeremy Williams will be one of the Buffaloes' most talented players next season. But those are two big ifs.

    Rumors started to spread last month that Williams was ready to transfer out of the program.

    "As far as Jeremy, there is no answer right now," Bzdelik said when asked about Williams' status. "To my knowledge, he has never officially asked for a release [from his scholarship]. He currently is still not eligible. But we have extended ourselves to him. We continue to work with him the best we can to see if we can get it right academically. He is a wonderful young man that we want to help."

    Williams, a Memphis native, played in all 27 games as a freshman in 2006. He averaged 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

    Non-conference schedule

    The Buffaloes still have one date left to fill before they can officially release their 2008-09 non-conference schedule. But Coach Bzdelik was allowed to inform the media that they will play Harvard, Lafayette, Montana State, Colorado State and TCU at home next season. They will play Stanford and SMU on the road.

    CU will also be competing in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, which is played around Christmas. Other teams set to play in that tournament include Clemson, George Washington, Pepperdine, Hawaii and Vermont. The Buffs will play three games in that tournament.

    The following season, in 2009-10, CU will be playing in the Maui Classic in Hawaii around Thanksgiving. That is the most prestigious tournament in the Aloha State and will include opponents like Arizona, Wisconsin, Louisville and Gonzaga.

    "My goal there is, with a pretty much freshman/sophomore team this year, all of a sudden they are sophomores and juniors and we start to build as we continue to add players hopefully in that '09 class as we sort of build this thing," Bzdelik said on the subject of playing in the Maui Classic in two years.

    Young and inexperienced

    The Buffaloes' 2008-09 roster will include just one senior in Jermyl Jackson-Wilson. That would lead one to the conclusion that more growing pains are forthcoming. All five incoming freshman are expected to play right away.

    "Obviously we are going to be very, very young next year," Bzdelik said. "But I believe we are going to be very skilled and we're going to have depth. We're also going to have willingness from all to buy in. Obviously I am very excited about our future. We'll have growing pains, there is no doubt about that because of our extreme youth, but it's a great investment in our future."

    Recruiting against top programs

    Auburn, Tennessee, Arizona State, Washington State, Minnesota, Gonzaga, Florida and Nebraska; those are among the other programs that had offered CU's 2008 signees.

    "I lost a player just recently to Indiana," Bzdelik admitted. "I lost a player just recently to Georgia. I lost a player to Memphis.

    "You know what? I've got to go head to head with those [schools], I have to. If I want to beat them on the court, I better beat them in recruiting. No one is smarter than anyone else; you better have some players, talented players.

    "What do we sell? Well, we're in the Big 12. What do we sell? We have a great campus. What do we sell? Hey, it was good enough for Chauncey Billups. What do we sell? An opportunity to play right away. What do we sell? This is an excellent academic school. What do we sell? Our facilities, I'll show you a locker room downstairs that we'll put up against any school in the Big 12."

    Additional Notes:

  • Guards Dwight Thorne and Levi Knutson both underwent post-season surgery. According to Bzdelik they are now "doing great".

    "I applaud both of them," Bzdelik stated. "Both of them played the entire year requiring surgery. By them playing, they weren't going to further damage themselves. Dwight's knee needed to be cleaned out; it was just very painful. Levi's hip, he had a little labral tear there and that was just very painful.

    "Both of them played the entire year through pain and I applaud them for what they were able to do. We followed the medical advice by limiting them in practice throughout the course of the year and they got through it."

  • Bzdelik was away recently scouting prospects in Australia and New Zealand. He spent six days watching the Australian 19 and under team play.

  • The Buffaloes will be hosting an "Elite Camp" for the first time this summer. The invite only camp will run on June 21st and June 22nd. "We have extended invitations to the top players in not only this state, but this region," Bzdelik explained. "The top eighth, 10th and 11th graders have been invited to spend a weekend with us for individual instruction; instruction in offensive and defensive team concepts."

  • Casey Crawford, who sat out last season due to transfer rules, is among the players expected to have a big role on the team in 2008-09. According to Bzdelik, he is a perfect fit for the "Princeton Style Offense" that they run.

    "He was a young man that was the Gatorade Player of the Year out of Kansas, [was a] top 100 rated high school player," Bzdelik said of Crawford. "[He] went to Wake Forest [and their] system really didn't suit him. He can really shot the ball.

    "Opposing big men are going to have to guard him. Last year, the lane was packed because they really only had to guard two and a half of our players. Now, a big 6-foot-11, shot blocker [on the opposing team], he better come out and guard Casey."

  • Four of the Buffs' five 2008 signees are expected to spend at least one month on campus this summer.

    Point guard signee Nate Tomlinson won't join the team until the fall semester. But he is going to be working out in a good basketball environment this summer. He is going to be hanging around the Sidney Kings, a professional basketball team in Australia, a team in which his father is the head coach.

  • CU's most recent signee from the Class of 2008 is Ryan Kelley. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard from Pomona (Calif.) Diamond Ranch is the nephew of Vince Kelley, who ranks fifth all-time on the Buffaloes' rebounding list.

    "[We were] talking to [Ryan] and all of a sudden Gonzaga comes in there and throws an offer down on the table and Tom Crean at Indiana says, 'Hey, we want you to visit'. So [we figure its] about time to get him in here [on a visit].

    "He is an excellent student. He is a terrific young man and he has really good upside. He can really defend; he can really drive the ball. He needs to be more consistent shooting the ball.

    "The young man, he leaves it out there and he wants to be here badly. He said, 'Coach, I know these other schools are calling but I want to be a Buff. I have always wanted to be a Buff. And that is a great thing. He is definitely an upside type of guy."

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