When the Colorado women’s basketball team officially started preseason practice last week, there was a bounce in the step of senior Peanut Tuitele.
Part of that was because of the excitement she feels for a team that has great potential, but it was also because she’s eager to make up for lost time.
Tuitele, a 6-foot-1 forward, injured her knee on the first day of summer workouts and was finally cleared to play just in time for the start of preseason practices.
“It was a little knee tear,” Tuitele said. “I just got surgery and fixed it up but it was nothing career-ending or season-ending. Now I’m back and healthy and doing rehab and getting back to how I used to. It’s a little setback for a major comeback. That’s what I believe in and I’m just gonna believe in the coaches, my trainer and the rehab program that I’m in so I can come back stronger.”
Tuitele started 22 games last season and averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. For three years, she has been an integral part of the lineup, starting 63 of the 79 games she’s played for the Buffs.
Throughout her career, Tuitele has battled some injuries, but is in great shape now and said she came into preseason camp feeling healthy.
“Oh way better,” she said. “I changed my diet completely, which was a super huge sacrifice but I was like, ‘I’m willing to do it for this team because there’s high expectations. I know we can hold up to those expectations, so I had to take it upon myself to do that. And as someone coming in as a returner, as a senior, I need to do that for my team.”
Head coach JR Payne has relied on Tuitele for the past three years but was impressed with how the veteran forward powered through her summer of injury recovery.
“She looks awesome,” Payne said. “She’s worked really, really hard in the weight room. She didn’t get an offseason (of basketball), but she’s in great shape and really fit and strong. She looked incredible (at the first practices). I couldn’t believe, to have that much time off and come back and you just really look good still. That’s what you get when you’re a senior and you’ve played a lot.”
Tuitele said it was “very frustrating” to sit out this summer because she knows the Buffs, who went 12-11 last year and return their entire core group, could have their best season in years.
“With how good our team is now, it didn’t feel right sitting on the sidelines and watching because I just wanted to be out there,” she said. “I was eager; I was hungry to get better and to get better with the team. I’m glad that I’m actually back on the court and get to work with them because this year is a big year for us, I have a feeling.”
Tuitele has never been one of the Buffs’ top scorers, but has made 47.8 percent of her shots and has been a reliable rebounder, defender and leader. Despite not getting a full offseason of training, Tuitele feels like a better player now.
“I’m more confident this year in my scoring ability, my passing – all my skills this year,” she said. “It felt good to actually put it into work when I got back on the court because I did work in the offseason and I did change my diet and all these things so I can be a better player for this program.”