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By: Tony Harman
Tad Boyle likes what he's seen from his six freshmen.
Brooks: Boyle's Freshmen Lack Only Seasoning, Not Skill
Release: October 18, 2012
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - Tad Boyle's six-member freshman class has the skills, the smarts and is closer than kernels on a cob. There's the pair of in-state bigs from just down I-25 South (Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon), the pair of L.A. Mater Dei alums (Xavier Johnson, Eli Stalzer), the sleek import from Detroit (Chris Jenkins), and the Steal from Sterling (Xavier Talton).

To differentiate the two Xaviers in practice and out, their Colorado basketball teammates refer to the pair of "X's" as "XJ" and "XT." I prefer Dos Equis, but that's another story for another day and maybe another website.

If there's ever been a better CU hoops recruiting class, you might not find it until next month when Boyle is allowed to sign and announce his 2013 crew. But that's another story for another day, too.

Thursday was Media Day for the CU men's and women's programs, and Boyle's youngsters were the talk of the Coors Events Center. No surprise there, mainly because this Buffs team features just one senior (Sabatino Chen) and likely will have only one upperclassman (junior Andre Roberson) in its starting lineup in the opener against Wofford on Nov. 9.

Among the returnees is sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who shifts to the point this season and has as much (or more) court sense as you'll find in any guy not quite two years removed from high school. Dinwiddie sees the court and the guys parading on it extremely well - and he likes everything he sees in the CU freshmen.

I asked him if the Buffs newbies were as skilled as advertised. "I think they're better," he answered. "I think Eli is a great knock-down shooter . . . Chris is very athletic . . . Xavier Johnson is the same; he's like 'Dre' (Andre Roberson) but stronger . . . Wesley has a total skill set . . . Josh is a monster in the post . . . and Xavier Talton is a really solid point guard. I mean, they're good."

In a handful of practices preceding Media Day, none of Boyle's freshmen had done anything to make him or his assistants question their recruiting strategies. In fact, everything they saw offered reinforcement.

Asked the same question about the freshmen skill level being what was expected, Boyle answered, "Yeah . . . the skill level is there, the talent is there, and the competitiveness I really like."

He told of an early scrimmage matching the returnees vs. youngsters and the returnees bolting to a 13-2 lead. "They were putting it on 'em," he said. But the young guys refused to roll over, rallied and methodically closed the gap, which impressed their coach.

Boyle believes when his "Sensational Six" also becomes the "Savvy Six," well, then he'll really have the class he envisioned. "It's just going to take a while for that to develop," he said.

He likes his players "hungry and humble" - but he also likes the humility balanced with a dash of swagger. "It's a good thing in doses," he said. "We talk about staying humble and staying hungry, but you have to have some swagger about you. It just has to be controlled and the perspective has to be there. I'd rather have to temper that (swagger) because you can't give a guy swagger."

The freshmen reported in early summer, in time for conditioning work and 10 practices that would precede a five-game European trip in mid-August. They've been living in the same dorm, eating together, working together. They went 2-3 on the overseas junket, but what they gained in chemistry and camaraderie probably outweighed the two wins.

But Boyle also was offered great glimpses of potential. The 6-10 Scott averaged 17 points and seven rebounds during the five games, but told me Thursday, "I need to get w-a-a-y better . . . there's great players out there. I just want keep getting better and developing my game. I want to become a better shooter and get stronger - those are my two main goals. And I want to keep working on my post moves."

Scott and the 6-8 Gordon waged epic battles in high school - Scott played for Lewis-Palmer, Gordon for Sierra - so catching Gordon's skill set was no surprise for Scott. They worked out together this summer, spent time in Boulder together and were "close almost 24/7," Scott said. Tales about "XJ's" athleticism also preceded Johnson's arrival in Boulder: "I had heard a lot about him," Scott said.

But Johnson's former classmate was the current CU classmate who caught Scott's eye in Europe. "Coach had told me they were thinking about signing Eli, but I didn't really know much about him when we came in," Scott said. "Over in Europe he was pretty amazing. He could hit the open shot and coach played him a lot as a backup point guard behind Spencer."

Scott is ambidextrous and will keep defenders guessing about which hand to guard. He began writing with his right hand, then switched to his left. "Ask me now to write with my right hand and I could do it but it wouldn't look nice," he said. He shoots his jumper with his right hand, uses his left around the basket - "which doesn't mean I don't use my right down there." So you figure it out.

"XJ" and Gordon are roomies. "He's my twin," Gordon said. They're also recognized, at least by "XJ," as "kind of the goofballs on the team." That brought them together in Europe and also had them in the front of the line when a BuffVision staffer suggested that Boyle's guys parody the "Gangnam Style" video.

Maybe as much as the European trip, that taping helped the young and old Buffs bond and has received rave reviews in the CU hoops community. When Chen declined the lead role, junior Jeremy Adams volunteered but said he didn't really know what he was stepping into. Nonetheless, Adams - outfitted in shades, white shirt, black tie and vest - makes it work.

"After I found out what it was, I didn't want to do it anymore but it was too late," he said. "But it was fun; it turned out a lot better than anybody expected."

His teammates and coach agreed. "It was a great idea," said "XJ."  "I didn't know we were doing it, then me and Wesley took off with it and threw ideas out and had fun with it. In the beginning, it was like we don't want to do this . . . but then it became 'let's do it, have fun with it and enjoy the experience.' I loved it."

Boyle viewed the video, saw no reason to apply the brakes, and "was pleasantly surprised . . . it showed our personality (and) a big part of college basketball is having fun." He said he didn't participate because he wasn't asked - not that he would have accepted an invitation: "You've got to be able to dance, and I have no skills there."

Dance steps aside, what he's done very well is obvious. He's got six freshman keepers on campus and another talented class on the way. This group of newcomers' goal is to make performance match expectations.

"We'll see. We've got a lot of work to do, but I think we will if we keep working hard," Gordon said, grinning. "Yeah, we'll catch up to the hype."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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