Josh Scott is a rare freshman. How rare? Midway through his first year at the University of Colorado, generically ask him, "How's it going?" and be prepared for this answer:
"I'm loving life. I had a good first semester. College is easier than I thought it would be. Yeah, I like it a lot."
Skeptics will scoff and say check back in three years after the curriculum has deepened and the increasing demands of college basketball have worked him over.
But we'll creep out on a short limb here and predict Scott's answer won't vary. This rare freshman is destined to be a rare senior. Book it.
Scott produced a first semester GPA to back up his "college-is-easier-than-I-thought" answer. After checking in with a 3.1 for the fall semester in psychology, he also plans to declare education as a dual major next fall.
Scott doesn't dabble in anything. He wades in, surveys the surroundings and asks what he can do to elevate himself. That's been his approach to college life and hoops, and roommate Eli Stalzer and CU coach Tad Boyle - among others - have been impressed.
Stalzer, a freshman guard from Brea, Calif., and Scott have gotten along famously, watching movies and lounging in their very sparse spare time. Stalzer called his laid-back roomie "a great guy, super nice, fun to play with. He gets mad every now and then when he doesn't get a foul called, but that's about it.
"We argue all the time in our room, but that's just messing around. He's a great teammate. There's nothing bad I can say about Josh. Obviously, he's showed what he can do."
Added Boyle: "You could make an argument that Josh Scott has been our most consistent player - and he's a freshman. That's unheard of."
BUT THE NUMBERS BACK UP Boyle's argument. In Pac-12 Conference play, the 6-10 Scott is averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds a game (13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg in all games). Through six conference games - CU is 2-4 and faces Stanford Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Coors Events Center - Scott is fifth in in field goal percentage at 55.6, making him the league's top freshman in that category. He also ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds per game (3.17). ESPN's Insider currently ranks him tenth on its list of top national freshmen.
Don't get the impression that Scott has found everything about his first year of college seamless and worry free. He's not getting banged around in the classroom like he occasionally does on-court. Boyle cites the grueling three-game non-conference stretch where Scott and the Buffs encountered Wyoming, Colorado State and Kansas.
Two of those games (Wyoming, KU) were on the road, and CU lost that pair. But in all three games, a "Men At Work" sign could have been posted in the low post. Said Boyle: "That three-game stretch was really a learning curve for him because he played against three fifth-year seniors consecutively - Leonard Washington (Wyoming), Colton Iverson (CSU) and Jeff Withey (KU) . . .
"I think he learned and picked up something from each of those experiences. He's become a much better post defender and much better ball-screen defender - those are the two areas where I see the most improvement."
Scott arrived in Boulder with "a skill level that was very good for a guy his age, his size, that early in career," Boyle said. "We didn't know about him adapting to the physicality, but Josh is the kind of guy who doesn't mind banging, the body-on-body type of thing. He doesn't shy away from that.
"Now, what he's learned - and every freshman will tell you this - is that he's got to get bigger and stronger. He doesn't have the beef right now to go against the 22- and 23-year-old guys who have been around."
But Scott believes bigger is better and he thinks he will be better still next season after adding 20 to 25 pounds. He hopes to weigh 240-250 pounds as a sophomore, but current teammate and former high school adversary Wes Gordon contends his good friend appears powerful at 220.
"I guess weight would help him, but he's not the type of dude who's going to be 6-10, 260," Gordon said. "Maybe he'll get to 230. He's going to get faster and more athletic. As he gets older he's going to develop more into his body. He has good hands, too, and that'll help him against bigger post players.
"If he really wants to get to 250, he'll do it. But I think 235-240 will be just fine for him. He's stronger than what he looks - a really strong dude. I don't think strength is a weakness. I guess he doesn't like being bumped off the block, that's why he thinks he needs to put on pounds. But he has so many moves that I don't think it affects him."
IN SCOTT'S ESTIMATION, HIS biggest first-year struggle "has been finding the equilibrium between boxing out and going to get the ball against bigger, stronger people - which is one of the reasons I want to put on weight."
As for Scott's low post skill set, Boyle sees "a terrific left hand" and the ability to stay unconventional around the basket, which keeps defenders off balance. Boyle also sees a big, inside player who is becoming more comfortable moving outside and shooting a 12- to 15-foot jump shot.
In time, said Boyle, Scott will develop a more efficient right-handed jump hook in the post, just as his perimeter shooting will improve. Boyle also expects Scott's low-post passing to sharpen as he draws more double teams - which Boyle calls inevitable.
Scott admits to being "a little" surprised at the success of his transition to college hoops: "I didn't think I'd be doing this well." But he also admits to coming to CU on a little bit of a mission to prove that Colorado high school players could compete at this level with those from around the nation.
"There's lots of doubts I heard coming in from different people - like that I was a Colorado kid and the competition wasn't as good and it would be a struggle for me," he said. "All summer I was trying to prove that Colorado kids can come in and play. I was going to show them, and I think it's worked out pretty well for me so far."
Maybe the only thing that hasn't gone according to plan has been finally playing in the same frontcourt with Gordon, the 6-8 forward from Sierra who banged against Scott in high school. Gordon is redshirting, leaving the two to practice against each other. But on game nights, Gordon watches while Scott plays.
Said Gordon: "It's been tough; it's been like watching your brother in a fight and you can't really do nothing about it."
It's been tough on Scott, too. After they both signed with CU, he was anticipating having Gordon alongside him. "I really was," Scott said. "We're good friends. I think that surprises a lot of people, but that's just the way we are."
He called Gordon "very talented" and said he is "already excited for next year and being able to play with him and go through his freshman year on the court. It'll be funny because I've already gone through it."
SCOTT'S WORK ETHIC IS enhanced by an eagerness to soak up whatever Boyle and low-post coach Mike Rohn offer him. "His thirst for learning is refreshing," Boyle said. "He's got a fire in his belly, which makes him special."
As skilled as he is, Scott realizes he's not as polished as he can become. At Monument's Lewis-Palmer High School, where he was Colorado's Mr. Basketball and a Parade All-America selection as a senior, Scott was coached by Russ McKinstry. He soaked up all the veteran prep coach could teach him, and has done the same with Boyle and Rohn.
Said Scott: "I've always thought that I didn't know the most about basketball; I think anybody who thinks they do, or they know better than a coach, is kind of crazy. I've just tried to come in as a freshman and learn. That's going to pay off next year undoubtedly. I'm getting major minutes as a freshman. All I can do is keep learning and improve upon it . . . that's a pretty easy task when you think about it."
Learning and advancing are second nature for Scott, partly because of what Boyle sees as a "great balance" of self-confidence and humility. "He's not cocky, but he believes in his abilities. He's mature beyond his years. I've had a lot of people comment to me outside the program just how poised he plays. He doesn't get rattled; he doesn't get sped up; he plays within himself."
That factor will be critical for Scott and his teammates as they close out January and head into the final month and a half of the Pac-12 season. At 2-4 and with a pair of home games looming (California visits Sunday), the Buffs are in position to right themselves if they can rediscover consistency and develop the tougher edge that Boyle is pushing for.
"We've got 12 (conference) games left and every one is huge," Scott said. "We can put ourselves in a great place again, but we can't drop any more games that we should win. We know we're a good team. I think a big part of it is knowing we play good teams every single night - it's not like non-conference. I've learned that it has to be more of a consistent thing.
"I can tell you from watching last year to this year, teams are way better (in the Pac-12). Even the bottom teams, I think, would have won a lot more games last year. It's a good thing for all of us because we're in a better conference, but it's also a mindset you have to get out of: The Pac-12 is not a 'sucky' conference."
SHAKE SCOTT'S FAMILY TREE and a wide variety of athletes will tumble out. His father (Alton, football) and mother (Theresa, basketball) competed at the Air Force Academy. They raised five sons. All have names beginning with "Jo" and all are following in their parents' athletic footsteps. Joshua (19) is the oldest, Joel (11) the youngest. In between, there are Jordan, Joseph and Jonathan.
Josh's thumbnail of each: Jordan, a 6-6 senior at Lewis-Palmer, plays basketball (he was among the Colorado Springs Gazette's first-team 4A selections last year); Joseph competes in football and wrestling; Jonathan is in football, basketball and track; and Joel is "playing everything now. We have a little dynasty going on down in Colorado Springs right now," Josh said with a laugh.
"Everybody says bless my mom; bless her heart," he added. "And it's the truth. She deals with us. We can get pretty crazy in the sense that we fight with each, mess with each other . . . we know how to push buttons. I think that's how you have to survive in the land of five boys."
Scott didn't begin competitive basketball until he reached the sixth grade. A growth spurt a year earlier had pushed him from 5-foot-6 to about 6-1, and he had no idea of how tall he would become. So he was trying to pattern himself after NBA guards such as Lebron James and Allen Iverson. In a couple of years, when he was inching toward 6-9 as a high school junior, the template switched to Tim Duncan and Akeem Olajuwon.
During middle school, Scott said he was growing "about an inch or two a year . . . we didn't know when I would stop; I'm the tallest in the family. We just never knew."
And more growth might be on the way. Several weeks ago, after an X-ray on his wrist, he was told the growth plates in his wrist have not closed.
So, with fingers crossed, he said, "Maybe 6-11? 7-feet? I'd be happy."
So would Tad Boyle, who's already pretty happy with the current model.