BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — This was an unexpected surprise: McKinley Wright IV received congratulations from Chauncey Billups after breaking his school mark for most assists by a freshman last season.
And this was an even bigger shock: An invitation to work out with the biggest name in Colorado hoops history.
Another assist for Billups. Another way to take a big step forward for Wright, who improved his long-range shooting through tips from the longtime NBA player.
“Chauncey’s obviously the greatest point guard to come through Colorado and I want to be that someday,” said Wright, who had 175 assists, breaking Billups’ freshman mark of 143 set in 1995-96. “He kind of motivated me to come get it. I’m excited to continue after his greatness and the legacy he created here.”
The Buffaloes are coming off a season in which they finished 17-15, including 1-10 away from home. Still, they had one of the Pac-12’s most dynamic players in Wright. The 6-foot floor general averaged 14.2 points a game and 5.5 assists.
This summer, he searched for more balance — on his jumpers, that is. Teaming up with Billups, he worked on getting his feet a shoulder’s width apart before launching long-range shots.
Even more, they discussed being a leader.
“We talked about what I needed to do to get this team over the hump,” Wright said.
The preseason media poll has Colorado picked to finish seventh, with Oregon tabbed to win the Pac-12 title. Understandable, since the Buffaloes were such a young team last season and lost two big pieces in George King and Dominique Collier. They also lost big man Dallas Walton for the season after he suffered an ACL injury in practice.
Under the guidance of coach Tad Boyle, the team has been to the NCAA Tournament four times and has five 20-win seasons.
“I want to continue to push this program to new heights and I think this year’s team has a hunger and a chip on their shoulder that hopefully we can display as the season unfolds,” Boyle said. “We can do some special things.”
Things to know before the Buffaloes begin on Nov. 13 against Drake:
HEALTH SCARE: Freshman forward Evan Battey was playing basketball when the right side of his body “fell asleep,” he said. Battey couldn’t move his arm and then couldn’t stand up as he suffered what’s been described as a stroke. His mom took him to the emergency room. He went to therapy to learn how to chew, talk and play again.
“I’m feeling great,” said Battey, who sat out last season as an academic redshirt. “Last year was a scary time for my family, my teammates, friends, everybody.”
Boyle can’t wait to use him.
“The one thing about Evan is that he’s going to be fun to watch,” Boyle said.
TRANSFER: With Collier and King gone, the Buffaloes needed a 3-point threat. Enter transfer Shane Gatling, who averaged 16.6 points and shot 39 percent from 3-point range for Indian Hills Community College in Iowa last season. He’s also a reliable ball handler.
“Kind of a combo guy but could really make shots is what elevated him to the top of our list recruiting-wise, and he has the ability to go make shots and spell McKinley at the point some,” Boyle said.
LEADERSHIP: Senior guard Namon Wright hopes to have more of a voice on the court.
“It’s a little easier to be a leader in high school when you’re the best player, biggest guy,” Wright said. “In college it’s a little bit different with the faster style of play, you’re a little bit more tired but you still got to speak up for everybody and that’s what I’m learning now, even when I’m tired, making sure everybody’s in the right positions. Small things like that.”
X-FACTOR: The message to junior forward Lucas Siewert is easy — shoot early, shoot often. Just keep shooting all season long. Siewert finished strong last season.
“You saw in the second half of the season last year him come into his own and start developing,” Boyle said. “He’s shooting the ball with unbelievable confidence. … If you look at this team and say give me one or two X-factors, Lucas is an X-factor for us.”
BEY NOT KEPT AT BAY: Tyler Bey is a 6-foot-8, defensive-minded force who has an improving jumper. The Buffaloes are hoping he can be a player similar to former Buffaloes standout Andre Roberson, who’s now with Oklahoma City. Bey added 12 pounds of muscle this offseason and worked on his range from the outside.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
AP freelancer Monica Costello contributed to this report.
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