BOULDER – Earnest: resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.
Nobody will ever question Colorado Buffaloes fifth-year wing George King’s sincerity or conviction. King—the King—is Earnest.
This has always struck me about the only Tad Boyle class of 2013 recruit to fulfill his eligibility at Colorado. It hasn’t always been easy for King, nor did he end up in the program that he thought he signed up to be in, but the legacy of King’s time in Boulder has not yet been written.
King can do a lot with what little time he has left. Going past his own game, where he can chase fifth-year senior Derrick White into the NBA, King has the potential to lead the Buffs, a squad that now features eight players yet to take the court donning the black and gold.
Where four fifth-year seniors fell last year—in the leadership department—King has a chance to start from what Boyle refers to as “ground zero,” in order for CU to rebound from a tough season.
King has always been quiet, but he is clutch and that gene speaks volumes.
It was in 2016, with Colorado on the edge of an NCAA-Tournament berth, that saw King save the team’s hopes with a fading three-point shot from the wing as time expired against a lousy Washington State squad to extend the game into overtime.
Later that year, King took over the Josh Scott-led Buffs in a miracle comeback against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament that eventually fell just short. As Colorado scored 58 points in the second half, King nailed five shots, two of which were trifectas, and he started to bark out commands. It was the first time the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player of The Year for 2015-16 had stepped up in that way.
He stepped right back down for the relative disaster that was 2016-17 in both production and leadership. But a lot of people will tell you that the impact of White and the loss of Scott had more to do with King’s disappointing season than anything else did.
Nobody has ever called King verbal but he’s always been straightforward. Last year, after squeaking by Air Force, one of the worst wins in the Boyle era, King tried to explain the team’s lackluster play to me.
What’s the answer to the question of why this is happening and keeps happening?
“That’s the question coach Boyle asked us after our last game (Saturday) and we couldn’t answer it,” said a confounded King in crowded Clune Arena hallway. “I sat and thought about it after he asked that question to us and I still can’t answer it. Because if we could (answer the question) it wouldn’t happen. But I don’t know. It’s a great question, it’s a great—it’s the question of the team right now. Just why? We don’t know, it just happens. But going forward we just have to be aggressive.”
How do they go about answering the question?
“We didn’t hit the nail on the head; it’s still the question we don’t know the answer to yet,” King described as he attempted to put words to his frustration. “Shapiro, I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m still trying to think, maybe if we come out in the second half and we think just because we did this in the first half that it’ll be easy in the second and we’ll get it again. But we got to realize the opposing team wants to win too and they’re going to come out aggressive. I think we’re sometimes lackadaisical in the second half because what we did in the first.”
King was always accountable for the Buffs last year, even when the supposed leaders weren’t.
Going into this season, he’s already started off determined.
“Just being vocal,” King explained how he’s stepping up. “Leading by example isn’t good enough anymore. Holding guys accountable and if I see something that’s not good for the program I have to address it right then and there. Just being assertive in all aspects.”
It’s a very tough thing for a guy like King to all the sudden be vocal. Yet, he saw it first hand two years ago when the soft-spoken forward Scott became the literal big man on campus.
“I see a lot of it,” Scott said of the similarities between his senior year and King’s. “He’s taking lead and he wants to and it’s important to have guys that want to do that. With him he’s been there and been through every situation, he’s mature and experienced, he’s in that prime position.
“The thing that will make or break it is if he’s willing to not be the nice guy. There are moments when some of the guys didn’t like me as a senior but in the end, we had to make it to the tournament and it was worth all those moments of fighting and arguing to get that result.”
Scott’s junior year ended with a disjointed CBI run and is an easy comparison to last year’s disappointing NIT team.
“Ineffective leadership, not recognizing that one play can make or break your season, it wasn’t as if we didn’t have the talent or the pieces,” Scott said as he looked back on 2014-15’s problems. “But you lose a couple of games by one possession. That happened last year (2016-17) too. One possession, one box out, one turnover, or one stop, it’s important and guys have to accept their role and you need a leader to make sure they get that.”
Scott, a year removed from the team and a whole continent away, pinpointed last season’s issues, which mainly revolved around a now departed senior class.
Thus the onus turns to this year’s seniors King, Dom Collier, and Tory Miller-Stewart.
King has had the most prolific career at CU of the three, and has spent the longest on campus. In reality, it’s his team if he wants it.
“George walks the walk,” Boyle said.” He’s doing what he’s supposed to do in the classroom. He has absolutely zero problems off the court and he plays hard. He’s doing what a good senior leader is supposed to do. The next step is having to open up his mouth and verbalize the things that need to be done, not just show it. He walks the walk now he just has to talk it.”
Moreover, for King himself, who briefly declared for the NBA Draft last season before coming back to school, he has the chance to follow White as a second straight fifth-year senior from Boulder to the NBA.
“Stuff like that helps put us on the map,” King said this summer about White going to the Spurs. “Not only are you making it to the NBA and you’re part of the top one percent of basketball players in the world but you’re getting drafted in the first round and coming from the University of Colorado. It’s a Cinderella story, his story is a beautiful story.”
He, like White, has no worries about his age and as a 6-foot-7, 220-pound wing that rebounds and shoots, his chances are probably better than most outsiders think.
“I understand if you’re 60-years-old if you can play and a help a team, a team is going to want you,” he said. “Being a fifth-year guy, obviously the odds are against you but if you can play, and they like you, chances are they’ll take you. That happened for Derrick.”
That experience from this summer’s workouts with NBA teams has helped King realize where he’s at in location, physically relatively and in reality.
“The stuff the coaching staff at the University of Colorado is telling me is no different than what these teams are telling me,” he said. “What I took from it is that I need to work on ball handling, decision making, rebounding at a high level, defending, playing hard all the time and I have a chance.”
First thing is first and that’s stepping up for the Buffaloes before he can step into the league. And Boyle is looking specifically to King both publicly and privately.
“What we need from George is leadership and consistency,” Boyle told. “He has to be that consistent, stable guy, who knows he’s been there, knows he’s done that. He has to give those freshmen that rock that they can look to, especially when things get tough. George is a very composed player which will help him in that regard, but he can’t be thinking about just George King, and I think that’s the leap a lot of players have to make going from underclassman to upperclassman.
“To get into that leadership role, he has to get out of himself. (He has to) get over himself, get out of himself, and see the big picture with this team – to set the example, but now hold his teammates accountable to that example.”
Maybe the best example of King starting to set an example came in a text message to all of his teammates in their group chat. Around Memorial Day, he wrote to his fellow Buffs, “We’re not playing basketball this season.”
Over the next few minutes, a couple of the guys text backed with response such as, “what are you talking about GK,” or a simple question mark.
King responded, “we’re serious-ing basketball.”
When asked about this, King laughed and stopped me, “Who told you that!”
Look, Shapiro,” he added. “I’m not aiming for that, I’m joking around, it’s not going to be our motto. Guys know what I mean when I say that, we finna play ball, that’s just what we do.”
What the Buffaloes accomplish this season will certainly be tied to King. Though, it’s just as much what they do once he steps off campus as it is about this season.
He can easily make like Cory Higgins did in 2010-11. In Boyle’s first season, Higgins led CU to the NIT final, many around The Keg credit Higgins as the spark for the three straight NCAA Tournament runs that followed his time on campus.
King can do the same seven seasons later by leading a young Buffaloes team, showing them how to succeed as college basketball players and set an example that outlasts his own reign in Boulder. That’s the question for 2017-18; it’s King’s court, can he take the crown and roam?