Throughout the offseason, the prevailing theme on how mega-talented sophomore Jabari Walker might take the next step for the Colorado Buffaloes swirled around his ability to stay on the floor.
For Walker, it was a frustrating opening note on that front.
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the Buffs’ 78-48 victory against Colorado Mines in a preseason exhibition on Wednesday night was Walker’s swift return to foul trouble. Walker picked up three fouls within the game’s first 13 minutes and fouled out with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left to play after recording six points, six rebounds, and two steals.
Walker picked up his first foul just 37 seconds into the game while trying to draw a charging foul. He was called for an offensive foul about two minutes later and, in a concession to it being an exhibition game instead of the regular season, CU head coach Tad Boyle bucked his typical routine by letting Walker stay in the game despite the two quick fouls.
Walker picked up his third foul on an easily-avoidable defensive reach-in along the baseline as the shot clock was winding down, and he eventually fouled out on an equally-avoidable over-the-back call while going for a rebound.
“Last year, Jabari had foul trouble but it didn’t affect our team as much because we were so deep at that position and we had so many answers,” Boyle said. “This year, we’re going to need him to play heavier minutes.
“Jabari needs to play with great energy, but he just can’t identify so much with…he’s a good scorer, we know that, but he can’t identify his game with his offensive production. There’s going to be nights like he had tonight where he was struggling to score the ball. And that’s OK. He can really help this team if he defends and rebounds.”
With redshirt sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy and true freshman KJ Simpson taking the lead in replacing departed point guard McKinley Wright IV, there is a reasonable chance turnovers could be an issue at times for the Buffs’ new-look backcourt.
The exhibition win against Mines started that way, but it certainly didn’t end that way.
CU was well on its way to a bad turnover game when they committed their seventh of the night with 8:49 still to play in the first half. But the Buffs didn’t commit another in the first half and recorded only three after halftime, finishing with 11 assists and 10 turnovers. Barthelemy (three assists) and Simpson (two assists) were charged with just one turnover apiece.
“Another positive from tonight,” Boyle said. “Ten is a great number. They really adjusted. You can still play fast, which we want to do, and still be under control. We just got a little careless in the first half with the ball. But they adjusted and did a great job. We’ll live with 10 turnovers every night we play.”
Perhaps giddy to be back in the building after last year’s COVID season, Wednesday’s attendance of 2,406 surpassed all of the most recent preseason exhibition games hosted by CU. The 2019 exhibition against Pomona Pitzer drew 1,372, the 2018 exhibition against Mines drew 2,046, and the 2017 exhibition against Mines drew 1,112.
“Great to have the fans back. Nobody appreciated them more than our players,” Boyle said. “We’ve all missed them. This was an exhibition. It wasn’t televised. It wasn’t on the radio. It was an exhibition. Hopefully against Montana State (on Nov. 9) we can have this place rocking and rolling.”
CU senior forward Evan Battey battled an old teammate from Villa Park High School in California in Mines sophomore Riley Schroeder, who hit a 3-pointer and had four rebounds in 15 minutes…Silver Creek graduate Trent Dykema came off the bench to go 3-for-7 with seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes for the Orediggers.