KJ Simpson ready to leave CU Buffs, enter NBA draft

As the final seconds ticked away in a season-ending loss against Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Colorado guard KJ Simpson leaned dejectedly against the scorer’s table while lifting his gaze to the rafters.

It was easy to assume Simpson was overcome by the moment, as the stirring late-season run by the CU men’s basketball team came to a sudden end. Yet maybe Simpson was savoring his final moments in a Buffaloes jersey, as well.

After one of the most impressive individual seasons in program history, Simpson is ready to roll the dice at the next level. On Friday, the junior guard announced via social media that he will forgo his senior season at CU to enter the NBA draft. The loss of Simpson isn’t completely unexpected, as the first-team All-Pac-12 selection evolved from a draft afterthought at the beginning of the season to a player with a very good chance of being selected in the second round of the June draft.

Simpson averaged 19.7 points for a Buffs team that finished with a team-record 26 wins while reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Simpson’s scoring average was the second-highest by a Buffs player in 14 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle, trailing only the 20.5 points per game put up by Alec Burks in Boyle’s first season of 2010-11.

Simpson’s 2023-24 campaign won’t soon be forgotten in the team record book. His free throw percentage of .876 set a team record, topping Cory Higgins’ mark of .866 from 2010-11. Simpson’s 3-point percentage of .434 ranks fourth all-time, and he also played a team-record 1,298 minutes.

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Simpson’s 728 total points this season ranks third in team history and was just one point behind Cliff Meely’s 1970-71 total of 729 points. Likewise, Simpson’s 181 assists also ranked third among CU’s season leaders, trailing by only one McKinley Wright’s 2020-21 total of 182 assists.

Simpson finishes his career ranked 15th on the all-time scoring list with 1,424 points and ninth in career assists with 378. Simpson’s 133 made 3-pointers also are tied with Wright for 11th all-time.

Among Simpson’s final-season highlights were a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double in a home win against Washington on Dec. 29, followed by a career-high 34 points in a win against Washington State two days later. Yet Simpson saved what likely will be his most unforgettable moment for the NCAA Tournament.

After posting his fourth career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds in CU’s NCAA Tournament First Four win against Boise State, Simpson went 7-for-12 from the field and 8-for-9 at the free throw line before finishing with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists in the Buffs’ wild 102-100 win against Florida in the first round. Simpson provided the go-ahead points on a baseline jumper that rattled around the rim dramatically before dropping through with just 1.7 seconds to play.

With Simpson’s departure, Boyle and his staff have three open scholarships to work with this spring, a number that could increase pending the NBA draft decision of freshman Cody Williams.

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