Julian Hammond III adjusting to uncertain role with CU Buffs men’s basketball

Former Cherry Creek two-sport star coming off CU debut

University of Colorado, Boulder’s Julian Hammond III gets around  Colorado School of Mines’ Riley Schroeder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Julian Hammond III gets around Colorado School of Mines’ Riley Schroeder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Julian Hammond III certainly isn’t the first basketball player forced to adjust from prep stardom to a spot at the end of the bench. It happens every year, and perhaps next season Hammond will be the older Colorado Buffaloes player imparting wisdom to rookie left out of the rotation.

Yet the knowledge doesn’t make the adjustment any easier.

Less than a year removed from his status as one of the top prep stars in all of Colorado, Hammond has had to adjust to life on the bench so far for the CU men’s basketball team. Nearly a year ago Hammond led Cherry Creek to the Class 5A state football championship and very nearly did the same a few months later in boys basketball before the Bruins were eliminated in a semifinal OT thriller against eventual state champ ThunderRidge.

Hammond probably can’t remember the last time he failed to work up a significant sweat through an entire basketball game, but that’s what he had to endure during the Buffs’ first two games of the season. Hammond finally got to mix it up during CU’s rout of Maine on Monday night, and as the Buffs get set to open the three-game Paradise Jam tournament on Friday in the US Virgin Islands against Southern Illinois (6 p.m. MT, ESPN3), Hammond obviously hopes his first taste of playing time is a sign of things to come.

“It’s been different. It’s a huge adjustment and change going from being a guy on the ball all the time to being a role player,” Hammond said. “But I’ve enjoyed it. I love all my teammates. I don’t care who gets the credit, and I’ve enjoyed it and I love learning from them. It’s exciting.”

Hammond finally made his playing debut for the Buffs when he checked in at the 13 minute, 16 second mark of the first half against Maine. He scored the first points of his career on a pair of free throws with just 0.1 seconds on the clock in the first half, and he capped CU’s 90-point night with his first 3-pointer in the waning moments.

Overall it was a solid debut, as Hammond finished with eight points, four rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes, going 2-for-4 from the field and 3-for-4 at the free throw line.

“It felt good. At first I was nervous, of course,” Hammond said. “It was different and I had fun. We played well together. It took a couple minutes. It’s just new, it’s exciting. I’m young, it’s my first time. So of course I was nervous at first, but it got better. It felt good knowing I can go out there and contribute and help. It gives me confidence in the future and what I can do down the road.”

Hammond wasn’t the only in-state product to finally play a role in the action against Maine. Sophomore forward Luke O’Brien had played in the first two games, recording just two points in 19 total minutes, but against the Black Bears he knocked down his first 3-pointer of the season before finishing with four points, four steals and two assists in 13-plus minutes.

“I thought Julian Hammond did a really good job,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “It took him a while. He was a little nervous when he got in there. He had a couple tough fouls. But again, it’s a learning curve for him that he hasn’t experienced the first two games like everybody else. Then Luke O’Brien I thought played really well. Four steals, was really active, got a big offensive rebound there in the first half. I love when he’s playing aggressive and under control. He had a nice drive and dish to Keeshawn in the second half. I thought both those kids did a good job in the minutes they had.

“Those guys just have to be ready when they’re number is called. That’s sometimes a tough position to be in, but they’ve got to figure that out, and I think they will. I’ve got confidence in both of them.”