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 Tuesday, November 2
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

LAST SEASON: 18-15 (.540)
NICKNAME: Buffaloes
COLORS: Black & Gold
HOMECOURT: Coors Event Center (11,076)
COACH: Ricardo Patton (Belmont '80)
record at school 57-47 (4 years)
career record 57-47 (4 years)
ASSISTANTS: David Moe (Texas Lutheran '86)
Terry Dunn (Northern Colorado '77)
Aki Collins (Clark Atlanta '97)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 10-14-22-13-18
RPI (last 5 years) 76-131-39-120-88
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NIT first round.

ESPN.com Clubhouse

Colorado had just lost at Missouri by 31 and had fallen to 12-13 overall and 3-9 in the Big 12. Until then, the season had been a series of starts and stops with no real momentum builders, no real inspired play. Coach Ricardo Patton had fooled around with the lineup to the extent that 11 of his 12 players started at least three games. Ten started at least eight.

Three players had missed as many as 10 games each with injuries. Another was dismissed from the team. After the loss to Missouri, the Buffaloes could have packed it in for the season. Instead, they found their stride.

Colorado won its final four Big 12 games by an average of 12 points. It wasn't exactly Murderer's Row, but the Buffs had trouble defeating any league opponent in January and most of February. They entered the league tournament as the hottest team and won their first game in Kansas City in nearly a decade.

The streak ended in the next round, but Colorado had pulled itself off the mat and landed in the NIT. The fast finish that produced the 18-15 record qualifies as a terrific season at Colorado.

That's not to undersell Patton and the program's potential. Since Colorado joined the league just after World War II, there have been only five league championships, and former coaches always griped about the disadvantage of playing 500 miles away from the closest conference competitor. But mostly what happened was Colorado did a lousy job in national recruiting. When the state produced the occasional star, Colorado wasn't good enough to land him.

That changed with Denver native Chauncey Billups, who provided the program's greatest season of the decade, the NCAA Tournament team of 1997 that defeated Indiana in the first round. The Buffs expectedly dropped off the next year when Billups turned pro two years early, which made last season all the more important. Would the tailspin continue, or would Colorado rebound? We got the answer in the final three weeks.

Blue Ribbon Analysis

Beginning his fourth full season, coach Ricardo Patton proved long ago that Colorado did the right thing by elevating him to replace Joe Harrington midway through the 1996 season. It will be all Colorado can do to keep Patton, who has been wooed by other schools after every season in Boulder.

The schedule is favorable for a fast start. A game or two over .500 in the Big 12 could put Colorado back in the NCAA Tournament. Jaquay Walls and Jamahl Mosely are potential all-league players. Expectations are higher in Boulder than at any time in the post-Chauncey Billups era. Patton has a team that can deliver.

The streak left Colorado feeling pretty good about itself this season. Missing is leading scorer Kenny Price, the team's top three-point threat. But enough returns to think of the Buffs as a spoiler-type team, one that with a few lucky bounces could crash into the league's top four or five.

The offense will come from 6-3 senior point guard Jaquay Walls (11.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .392 FG, .304 3 PT) and 6-8 junior forward Jamahl Mosely (10.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, .474 FG). Walls' percentages aren't inspiring, but he seemed to be able to turn it on at command. He scored 34 in a huge home victory over Oklahoma State. He almost single-handedly brought the Buffaloes back from a big second-half deficit at Kansas in a game Colorado lost in the final seconds.

Over the final 13 games, Walls averaged 15.8 points and was one of the league's best players.

Mosely missed Colorado's first 11 games with a knee injury, the second time in as many years he needed more than a month to heal from an injury. Mosely will continue his role as the Buffs' top banger, but needs to find a solution to an unacceptable .474 percent from the floor.

Patton has many choices to fill in the lineup. Small forward Will Smith (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, .429 FG, .235 3 PT) started 22 games in his third position in three seasons. He is a steady if unspectacular player who will help only because he is a senior.

The Buffs will find room in the frontcourt for Stephane Pelle, their highest-profile recruit since Billups. The 6-8, 235-pound Pelle was a fourth-team Parade All-American who averaged 19.3 points and 11.7 rebounds for Mercersburg Academy, Pa., a year ago. He is a native of Cameroon, and will bring up the team GPA if he matches the 3.9 he carried as a high school senior.

All of Colorado's newcomers are frontliners. Denver center Richard Fox, a 6-10, 250-pounder, is still growing after averaging 18.8 points and 10.3 rebounds for Regis High last season. As his game develops, Fox will give Colorado the true center it has lacked for years.

Patton went to his old Tennessee stomping grounds to find D.J. Harrison, a 6-7, 220-pound junior forward who played the last two seasons at Aquinas College in Nashville. Harrison didn't start as a high school senior or in his first year of junior college, but averaged 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as a sophomore.

He's the son of former NFL Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dennis Harrison.

The best story among the newcomers belongs to 6-5 swingman Michel Morandais, who came to Life Center High in Burlington, N.J., from France. He was born in the Virgin Islands, the same place that produced Tim Duncan. Morandais averaged 25 points and 8.0 rebounds a year ago.

The newcomer class gives Patton some choices. Add to that players who didn't get a complete look because of injuries last season and it's like Patton has half a team of rookies.

Nick Mohr (10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .451 FG, .258 3 PT), a 6-4 sophomore, was giving Colorado a terrific freshman season until he tore his ACL in the 10th game. Same story for another guard, 6-6 sophomore Kyle Williams (5.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg, .419 FG, .342 3 PT), who tore knee cartilage after 16 games. They'll battle at shooting guard.

Elsewhere in the frontcourt, Patton liked the progress of 6-10 sophomore forward Carlton Carter (5.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 39 blocked shots, .439 FG), who was selected to the league's all-freshman team. He played well toward the season's end and led Big 12 freshmen in rebounding and blocked shots.

Forwards Aki Thomas (5.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .388 FG, .205 3 PT), a 6-8 junior, and Ernest Renfro (3.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, .483 FG, .397 FT), a 6-7 junior, combined for 17 starts last year and will give the Buffs some bench experience.

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