Prized recruits should lift Buffs

Friday, November 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) _ Not satisfied with recruiting one of the top high-school centers in the country, Colorado men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton went after a quality point guard, too.

The greedy Patton now finds himself with, as he puts it, ``a much more talented team than we've had here in a while'' _ one that compares favorably with his 1996-97 team, which made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind Chauncey Billups.

Patton doesn't know if his Buffaloes will be as successful this season, but he does like his team's chances in the Big 12.

``A lot of things have to fall into place for us to crack into the top tier,'' Patton said. ``But I think we have two of the pieces that you need to be successful in the Big 12.

``In the past we've had a couple of guards and no inside presence, or maybe an inside presence and no perimeter play.''

Now, he has Mr. Inside in 7-foot freshman David Harrison and Mr. Outside in 6-2 junior point guard James ``Mookie'' Wright.

Harrison, the brother of Buffs senior forward D.J. Harrison and CU's most high-profile signee since Billups, averaged 28.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.5 blocked shots last season at Nashville's Brentwood Academy to earn McDonald's prep All-America honors.

Patton is convinced that Harrison will make an impact immediately.

``He is as powerful at the center position as any young guy that I have ever seen,'' Patton said. ``He will be very, very difficult to guard one-on-one in the block. What he does most is he makes the guys around him just a little bit better.

``He's not a fluke. He is what they say he is. I think he'll live up to all the expectations. He certainly has a lot to learn, but I think the good ones learn a little quicker. He's going to get better and better as time goes on.''

In Wright, the Buffs have a point guard with the speed and quickness to play at the pace Patton desires.

Wright averaged 17 points and seven assists last season at Compton (Calif.) Community College, and Patton says he's the quickest guard he has ever coached.

``I think we'll be more up-tempo this year,'' Patton said. ``That's not only because we added a point guard in James Wright, who is extremely quick and fast with the basketball. But the post players that we added can also run. Even Stephane Pelle, who took it upon himself to get with the assistant track coach in the off-season, is running much better and jumping higher.''

Pelle, a 6-9 junior forward, joins other returnees, including D.J. Harrison, shooting guard Nick Mohr, 6-6 sophomore Michel Morandais, 6-7 guard-forward Blair Wilson and guard Justin Harbert.

Since Billups turned pro after that 1996-97 season, Colorado hasn't finished higher than seventh in the conference. The Buffs were 15-15 overall last year and finished ninth in the league at 5-11.

To reach that upper tier, Patton wants his team to upgrade its defense.

``Two years ago we were pretty good defensively but we couldn't score,'' he noted. ``Last season we brought in some additional firepower, guys who were able to shoot the ball for the most part. We were the second-leading team in the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 80-plus points. But we didn't do a very good job of defending. So we've got to get back to the fundamentals of just playing hard-nosed, get-after-you defense.''