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Point guard role in capable hands for CU Buffs men’s basketball with KJ Simpson, Julian Hammond III

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 26:University of Colorado Boulder's Julian Hammond III (No. 1) during practice on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 26:University of Colorado Boulder’s Julian Hammond III (No. 1) during practice on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

It was a fairly innocuous play that unfolded at practice on Tuesday morning, yet it was one that showed Julian Hammond III all his offseason work might be paying off.

During a scrimmage portion of the second official practice of the preseason for the Colorado men’s basketball team, Hammond drove toward the hoop just beyond the right side of the lane and gently tossed a running bank shot into the bucket. It might have been a routine play, but it displayed a facet Hammond hopes to improve this year as a sophomore.

“I want to be better at 2-point scoring. I wasn’t very good inside the 3-point line last year,” Hammond said. “I wasn’t efficient at all. So I focused on that. I focused on my finishing and ball-handling. Those were my points of emphasis. I’ve practiced those (floaters) a lot. I’m not a big guard. I don’t jump very high. So you get a lot of those kind of in-between shots. I focused on those a lot.”

The 2022-23 season marks Year 2 for Hammond and KJ Simpson, the only two players from the Buffs’ Pac-12-top ranked 2021 recruiting class that played the entire season a year ago.

Simpson displayed flashes of explosiveness while mostly filling a sixth-man role, balancing game-changing performances with more than a few in which he struggled to get into a rhythm. Hammond was perhaps less flashy but steadier, eventually joining the starting lineup for the final five games of the season.

During the offseason, head coach Tad Boyle and his staff brought in five newcomers, including three transfers. Even after losing the player who took the bulk of the starts at point guard last year, Keeshawn Barthelemy, to the transfer portal (and Pac-12 rival Oregon), none of the new players on CU’s roster are true point guards.

That message was clear. While Boyle noted Princeton transfer Ethan Wright and redshirt freshman Javon Ruffin could take shifts at the point if needed, the floor general spot squarely is in the hands of the two sophomore guards. And it shouldn’t come as a shock if Simpson and Hammond eventually log minutes together in the backcourt instead of simply rotating at the point.

“It’s not just Julian and KJ, but those are the two main guys in terms of returning (players),” Boyle said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in both of them. And it’s not an either-or situation. I look back at our first year, and we had Cory Higgins and we had Nate Tomlinson and we had Alec Burks. All three of them played point at times. And then the next year we had Spencer Dinwiddie and Nate Tomlinson, two point guards, and we started them together.

“I look at Julian and KJ the same way. As long as defensively I feel like we can get done what we need to get done, those two kids could play together a lot. We’ll see how that goes, but I feel really good about both of them.”

Simpson averaged more minutes than Hammond last year (21.4 to 12.5) and a late push gave Simpson the team lead in assists, though he averaged just 2.7 per game. Simpson struggled from long-range, posting a .254 3-point percentage (17-for-67), while Hammond shot .415 (17-for-41) from 3-point range.

“(Boyle) trusts us clearly,” said Hammond, a former two-sport star at Cherry Creek. “We’ve just got to put in the work and be ready to go when the season starts.”