Maturing youth and new faces will give Buffs balance on offense
Smack in the middle of spring practice, the CU men’s basketball team is eagerly preparing for the opportunity next season presents for them to improve on their 12-20 record from last season.
Looking forward to his second season as the Buffs’ head coach, Jeff Bzdelik said he believes the past season was far more of a success than the team’s win-loss record shows.
“There were a lot of positives,” Bzdelik said. “We only won 12 games but we lost Big 12 games by only one, two, four, five, six, seven points. We lost three other games by single digits. So we were competitive.”
Bzdelik said the Buffs knew last season would be a learning period focused on creating a solid foundation on which to build a successful program. He believes they have done that, and they are currently focusing on improving as a team.
“We have now created an environment conducive to success,” Bzdelik said. “We have improved our work ethic and created a team environment. Now, as we improve the talent level and the skill level, improve our strength and get more depth, we can turn last season’s single-digit losses into wins.”
Last season, the Buffs relied on their seniors with the offensive production of Richard Roby and Marcus Hall and the defensive effort of Marcus King-Stockton. Bzdelik said he is expecting more balance on both ends of the court from the Buffs.
“Next season we are looking at more balanced scoring plus the depth to sustain the energy necessary to win games,” Bzdelik said. “Defensively I think we will be better because the schemes will be implemented and the work ethic has improved.”
Bzdelik said the Buffs will get the balance they need to make their offensive system work more effectively from the increased involvement offensively of rising sophomore guard Cory Higgins and the immediate impact of new faces like sophomore forward Casey Crawford.
To explain his expectations of Higgins for the upcoming season, Bzdelik cited a favorite basketball saying.
“What’s that old saying, ‘the best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore,'” Bzdelik said. “Cory gained valuable experience playing over 1,000 minutes last year. His overall game will elevate through that experience coupled with strength training and continued skill development.”
Higgins said he has been working hard in spring practice to fine tune different aspects of his game, increase his skill level and get stronger in preparation for the 2008-09 season.
The soon-to-be sophomore said he does not expect his role to change much within the offense, but rather the offense may look a bit different with the addition of many new players.
“We’re working hard to perfect the things we started to put in place last season,” Higgins said. “Personally, Coach wants me to drive the ball a little bit more and post everybody up a little bit more.”
Bzdelik said he is excited about the addition of Wake Forest transfer Crawford. Crawford’s skills as a big man will create space in the lane on offense that will allow Bzdelik’s offensive system to run more smoothly.
“He’s going to fit in very well,” Bzdelik said. “In order for this offense to be effective, your big man needs to be able to shoot the basketball. Last season, opposing big men never had to leave the basket to defend us and that took away driving lanes, back-door cuts and posting up opportunities.”
Crawford, who sat out all of last season because of NCAA transfer rules, said he has been enjoying working out and practicing this spring because he is finally competing for playing time.
Crawford said that at every practice and every game last season coach Bzdelik was constantly talking to him and helping him to understand what his role would be within the offense once he became eligible to step on the court.
As a result, the 6-9 230 lb. Crawford believes he is ready to make an immediate impact for the Buffs.
“I’m a big man who can shoot, and that is the type of player Coach has been looking for,” Crawford said. “I’ll be playing the five spot like Marcus King-Stockton and Jermyl Jackson-Wilson did last season. Those guys aren’t really outside shooters, so I guess the only difference will be that teams won’t be able to pack it in on us and create havoc in the lane.”
Aside from the players who have already been practicing with the team, coach Bzdelik said he also has high expectations of his incoming draft class.
The Buff draft class consists of four players: 6-8 forward Austin Dufault, 6-9 forward Trey Eckloff, 6-2 point guard Nate Tomlinson and 6-7 forward Toby Veal.
All four recruits were rated three stars out of five by recruiting database Rivals.com.
Bzdelik said he recruited these players because he believes they are suited to perform well within the Buffs offensive system, and he expects each one of them to be a contributor upon arriving at CU.
“Everyone we signed will be called upon to contribute in a significant way and I believe they are ready for that challenge,” Bzdelik said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Brad Cochi at Bradley.Cochi@thecampuspress.com.