Bzdelik vows no excuses

Colorado basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik got a pass last year. It didn't really matter what his team did on the court, the truth everyone knew was he inherited a mess from former coach Ricardo Patton, and it would be lunacy to expect much considering the talent he had at his disposal.

Year Two begins tonight at the Coors Events Center (8:30 p.m.) when Arkansas-Pine Bluff visits for the 2008-09 season opener, and once again the reality is expectations are low for a team composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores.

As long as they see signs of progress, many CU fans will be content this season to let Bzdelik continue to teach and build for the future.

That doesn't sit well with the coach.

"All young players need to get scarred so to speak before they surface, but having said that, I never want to use the excuse that we're young," Bzdelik said. "And I told my players that. We're never going to use that excuse because that gives them an out. It makes them feel a little comfortable. The future is now and I want them to understand that urgency now."

The Buffs finished last season 12-20 but generally seemed to improve, both as individuals and as a team as the year wore on. The Buffs stunned everyone in the Big 12 Conference by becoming the first No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5 seed in the conference tournament. Bzdelik led his team to a double-overtime triumph over Baylor.

That victory was evidence of progress for many and offseason recruiting successes have continued to boost confidence the program is headed in the right direction.

This season's team is certain to hit some major potholes with so many young players expected to contribute significant minutes. Bzdelik said he has never coached such an inexperienced team, but he does have similar situations to draw from in his past. During his first season as coach of the Denver Nuggets, the roster was filled with youngsters and nobodies and it was a challenge each night not to get blown out.

A better situation from which Bzdelik can learn came 25 years ago, when he was hired to coach at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Bzdelik inherited a team that had won four games the previous two seasons combined. He started two sophomores and three freshmen and had the program turned around in two years.

"I really like where we're headed," Bzdelik said. "I mean, let's be honest. This is a very inexperienced and very young basketball team. That means we're going to have a very challenging year, but we haven't lost sight of the vision as to where we want to go. We're making great strides in realizing that vision. I said when I first came here that I can't wave a magic wand and have this happen over night."

Fans will get their first look tonight at players such as sophomore Casey Crawford, a transfer from Wake Forest, who sat out last season.

Crawford should be a key addition because he is a big man (6-foot-9) who can shoot from behind the 3-point line while also being a good passer and defender. Bzdelik's offense requires a big man with range to work effectively. It was a missing component last season.

Crawford won't be the only play capable of filling that role this season. True freshman forward Austin Dufault is a similar player, who has coaches very excited. Coaches believe Dufault was a steal in recruiting. He is 6-8 with the ability to shoot, pass and put the ball on the floor.

Dufault is one of five true freshman who will play this season. The others are guards Nate Tomlinson and Ryan Kelley and forward Toby Veal and Trey Eckloff. Veal, a 6-7 product of Savannah, Ga., is probably the most athletic of the bunch. Tomlinson is the first Australian to play at CU.

"What I want to get to is a team, a team of intelligent, highly skilled unselfish players who play great team basketball," Bzdelik said. "If you do that, you can overcome the lack of that lottery pick that other teams might have. We just need to keep making strides north so to speak. I really like what I see from this group and I know it bodes well for the future."

Bzdelik will have some experience on which to lean in tough times. Forward Jermyl Jackson-Wilson is the only senior on the roster, but has plenty of experience and can help prepare the youngsters for what they will face in the Big 12 Conference. Junior guard Dwight Thorne also has been through two tough seasons as well. Bzdelik named those two players captains along with sophomore Cory Higgins, who played more than 1,000 minutes last season as a true freshman.

"Without question, we are so much further ahead of where we were last year because you need a willing group of passers who are unselfish, who have a high basketball IQ, who can shoot the ball from all positions to make this offense work," Bzdelik said. "We have made a considerable step in that direction with the injection of the young players who have joined our program and from those who remain."