Despite a two-game skid, junior Jermyl Jackson-Wilson said the Buffs are handling things differently than a year ago when they struggled on the court.
“I think last year’s team, we were getting so down on ourselves and it just carried over into practice sometimes,” Jackson-Wilson said Tuesday. “This year’s team, we lose, coach shows us on film what we could’ve done better. We’re learning from our losses and going back out there, trying to play harder the next game.”
Colorado (5-4) hosts the New Orleans Privateers Wednesday. Tip is at 7 p.m.
“We want to hurry up and get back out there and prove we can bounce back from a loss,” Jackson-Wilson said. “We want to play.”
New Orleans plays in the same conference as Denver, a team Colorado beat last month on the road. But the Privateers will be a formidable opponent. They are 5-1 on the young season, and boast a comeback win at N.C. State.
The New Orleans players are battle tested. And much of that battle has come off the court. For certain, it’s come away from their home court, as the team still doesn’t play at their normal home arena because it still hasn’t been repaired in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Louisiana city nearly three years ago.
New Orleans is on its third coach, and 15 players left the program in Katrina’s wake. The current squad includes only nine scholarship players. They’re led by senior, and reigning Sun Conference Player of the Year, guard Bo McCalebb, who averages 20 points a game.
McCalebb and his teammates are playing with the kind of urgency CU coach Jeff Bzdelik would like to see from his Colorado players.
“They have relentless pursuit and give unbridled effort at all times,” Bzdelik said. “They are one of the hardest-playing teams I’ve ever seen. They’re on a mission. They’re a squad of upperclassmen who have gone through really difficult times. Because of what they’ve gone through, they are so tough minded.
“They are, in some ways, what we would like to become, in terms of effort.”
New Orleans has caught the eye of CU’s players.
“They have a chip on their shoulder,” Jackson-Wilson said. “Winning for them is a little bit more important than a lot of teams in the country.”
While Bzdelik has changed CU’s offensive system from what it played under former coach Ricardo Patton, he said changing the “culture” within and surrounding the program is as big a challenge. The Buffs won just seven games last season.
When shots have fallen, CU has won. But the Buffs have not developed the mental toughness it takes to stay in games when the offense doesn’t come easily. At Wyoming last week, Colorado came out woefully flat and got down early. They picked up their effort in the second half, but it was too late to close the double-digit gap Wyoming had opened.
Bzdelik continues to hold demanding practices. He’s pointing out mistakes and encouraging players when they do things right. But little by little he’s putting the responsibility for finding the sense of urgency he’s been talking about since he took the CU job onto the players’ shoulders.
“You get to that point where (you say), ‘I’m gonna do something about this. I’m sick of this feeling,’” Bzdelik said about what he hopes the players find within themselves. “I can’t get it out of them if it’s not in them.”