Buffaloes counting on Lawson Loving to step up

Buffaloes counting on Lawson Loving to step up

Lawson Lovering (Photo: CU Athletics)

Lawson Lovering is still a work in progress. But the 7-foot-1 center from Wyoming is clearly more comfortable on the court this preseason with the Buffaloes, compared to a year ago when he just getting his feet wet at the college level.

“The more you’re out there, the slower the game gets,” said Lovering. “I am able to make reads better and the speed of the game doesn’t really get to me anymore. Just being out there a lot, over time, you are going to get more comfortable.”

The second-highest rated signee in modern Colorado basketball, Loving arrived in Boulder in the summer of 2021 with unfair expectations on him. Big men typically take longer to develop at the college level, and Lovering hails from the least populated state. Lovering played with the Salt Lake City based Utah Prospects on the club circuit for three years in high school, but the difficult transition period with a substantial jump in competition was unavailable.

“I’m not a very patient person, so it was kind of hard,” Lovering said. “As bigs, we don’t play the same type of style as we played in high school here. We have to learn a little bit more. Guards are playing basically the same as they were in high school. So I’ve had to adapt and just listen to what the coaches say and just work hard. You’ll develop if you are consistent every day. That’s what I have been trying to do.”

Lovering saw action in 18 games off the bench as a true freshman during the 2021-22 season before missing the final 15 contests due to a grade-one MCL tear. He made a full recovery from the knee injury without surgery and was back in the mix for the start of summer work with the Buffaloes.

The only consistent how 13-year Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle has had for Lovering in the last 15 months has been the big man’s body language on the court after making a mistake.

“Nobody is harder on Lawson than Lawson is on himself,” Boyle said this week. “That is a good thing, but it’s a bad thing. Finding that balance between expecting a lot of yourself but also understanding you’re not a perfect player and you are going to make mistakes is the most important thing, how you handle the adversity that comes your way. That’s what I’ve seen a big jump in Lawson from freshman year to his sophomore year, is his mental ability to handle that.”

Lovering was caught hanging his head on Wednesday, though, during what he described as a subpar practice.

“Yeah, I did that today,” Lovering said. “It is a little bit of a domino effect. If you get down one play then it is going to affect the next play and you’ll be down that play and keep going down that rabbit hole. You just have to brush it off and keep going if you make a bad play, which I have gotten better at, but I am still learning to do.

“This was one of my worst days in a while. They are a lot more uncommon than they were last year. I feel like I have a lot more good days that I string along than bad days. You can’t be perfect at all times at this level.”

The Buffaloes don’t need Lovering to be anything near perfect during the 2022-23 season but, with Jabari Walker and Evan Battey both playing professionally now, they do need him to man the starting center spot and play heavy minutes. Tristan daSilva can play the five spot at times, but true freshman Joe Hurl Burt is the only other scholarship big man on Colorado’s roster.

“I came here to play minutes so it is great that I have the opportunity,” Lovering said. “And if you want to play a lot, you have to stay out of foul trouble so I’m trying to be smart about not being overly aggressive on defense sometimes, letting the play come to me. I am working a lot on just being straight up the whole time and we are working a lot on denying the post, not letting the ball even get in there.”

Boyle was quick to point out all of the talented big men that have rolled through Boulder during his long tenure as the Buffaloes’ head coach have struggled with foul trouble at times as underclassmen. It is hard to learn how to play without fouling as a big man in practice.

“Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon, Evan Battey, you name the big guy, they all have to figure it out in their own way,” Boyle said. “We’ve had some scrimmages with some referees. We’ll have one this weekend. We’ll have the Nebraska exhibition. But we have coaches officiating in practices, no referees. I have no doubt Lawson will figure it out because he is a really intelligent player.”

Additional notes –

*** Loving went from practicing against a wider, experienced player in Battey each day in practice last year to going up against a leaner, inexperienced big man in Hurlburt this preseason.

“He’s very, very skilled,” Lovering said of Hurlburt. “He has had the same struggles as me coming in. It’s just hard to adapt to college basketball when you are a big man coming in as a true freshman. He’s a better shooter than I probably ever will be. He’s got great post moves, great footwork, nice touch. Obviously he just has to work on the mental piece of the game and he’ll be fine. It’s his freshman year. He’ll be fine.”

*** Combo guard Javon Ruffin scored 10 points through the first 11 minutes of last Saturday’s open intrasquad scrimmage before twisting his ankle. He returned to practice this week but was not at 100 percent, according to Boyle. Ruffin redshirted during the 2021-22 season as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered as a prep senior.

“We have to have him on the floor for an extended period of time in practice to see what he is capable of doing,” Boyle said. “He is showing some really good things in practice, but nothing is sustainable because he can’t stay healthy. Until we get that, it’s going to be hard to really know and depend and trust that he’s going to be ready to roll. Hopefully he can get over this and come back. But you have to have somebody that has been there for two, three, four weeks to kind of get a feel for what they can and can’t do.

“But he is fully capable, absolutely. He’s a bigger guard who can shoot it, good handle, he’s good in the ball screen. Javon Ruffin’s skill set is not something that we’ve ever questioned. He’s a guy that if he does get healthy and he can become an every day guy, he can help this basketball team without a doubt. I am excited about his potential but we got to see some production on the floor. Injuries are part of the game, we all know that, so deal with it and move forward.”

*** Junior forward Luke O’Brien was the Buffaloes’ best shooter over the summer based on the shot tracker technology they have begun to utilize in the program. O’Brien made 12 of his 26 three-point attempts during the 2021-22 campaign, an impressive 46.2 shooting percentage from deep, and the volume of his shots from beyond the arc is expected to increase this season.

“I think he is going to be a knock down shooter for us,” Boyle said of O’Brien. “I hesitate to use Levi Knutson’s name because nobody else in (the previous) 12 years I’ve been here has been able to do for us what Levi did. But I would love to think Luke O’Brien can, and Ethan Wright for that matter as well this year. But we’ll see. Luke’s a really good shooter, a good quick decision driver. He’s got to help us rebound and just understand how he can help this team and play within himself.”

*** The Buffaloes are hosting a closed door scrimmage with Wyoming this Saturday, then will host an exhibition versus Nebraska on Oct. 30, before opening the season at the CU Events Center against UC Riverside on Nov. 7.

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