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Keeler: Buffs NCAA Tournament star KJ Simpson is CU’s Jamal Murray. So why won’t NBA teams give him more love?

INDIANAPOLIS — KJ Simpson can’t go the restroom at Gainbridge Fieldhouse without a hand in his face.

Boise State bumped him. Florida banged him. Chuck the kitchen sink at CU’s No. 2, he’ll send your season down the drain.

The Buffs point guard and NCAA Tournament hero gets his kicks out of channeling Jamal Murray these days. Step-backs that just beat the buzzer. Blow-bys that kiss off the glass. Game-winning rainbows from circus angles. He’s the oncoming storm. The inevitable.

“I know KJ’s got a target on his back because he’s averaging 20-something points (this tourney), playing out of his mind,” CU forward and future NBA lottery pick Cody Williams said Saturday as the Buffs (26-10) prepped for Sunday’s second-round showdown with Marquette (26-9).

“I think with any type of talent, when you have more teams scouting how you play, they’re going (to want to) shut you down and kind of make it personal, to cut your wallet off. So that’s just a challenge that comes with it and you just got to accept it.”

Williams’ wallet? It’s fine. Soon, it’ll be fat. Kid’s a 6-foot-8 leaper with an NBA brother and NBA bloodlines, the guy the pro scouts come to see.

But the real money player in the Buffs locker room for the last month — heck, the whole season — has been a 6-foot-2 floor general out of Panorama City, Calif., a dude cold as ice and twice as nice.

“It doesn’t seem like he gets rattled very often, if ever,” Marquette men’s hoops coach Shaka Smart, who’s coached a few pros over the years, said of Simpson.

“He’s just out there playing and trying to make his team win. I think he has a toughness about him … he seems to be one of the toughness leaders on their team, because he’s older.”

He’s the best player lacing ’em up Sunday inside Gainbridge not named Zach Edey or Tyler Kolek. And Simpson’s slated to go mano y mano with the latter after out-dueling the Gators’ Zyon Pullin on Friday.

And if he cuts off Kolek’s wallet? Those snooty NBA types best start taking Simpson seriously.

You can trust the pedigree. Tad Boyle’s turned Boulder into the Cradle of Coaches On The Floor, one of the league’s quietest little NBA point guard factories. Spencer Dinwiddie begets Derrick White, who begets McKinley Wright, who begets Simpson.

Although the longtime Buffs coach on Saturday volunteered another parallel for Simpson, and after that dagger he dropped on Gator Nation, it fits: Mr. Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups.

Now that also came with caveats, to be clear, given their disparate physical profiles. But the two are already linked as Buffs brothers in spirit, Buffs brothers in pure clutch.

“KJ and Chauncey are totally different players; Chauncey was a big guard — 6-foot-4, 6-5,” Boyle reflected. “But in terms of their impact on the game, in terms of their leadership abilities and just the fact that everybody in that locker room kind of knows KJ, how good he is — just like when Chauncey played, they knew how good Chauncey was.

“I think it comes down to leadership. And to me leadership is influence. KJ has influence on this team. You can always use that influence in a positive way or in a negative way. The thing I respect about KJ is, he is a positive leader.”

To underscore that point, Boyle recalled the CU huddle in the dying embers of Buffs-vs.-Broncos, with his side down four and out of sorts offensively.

“We called a timeout, and he was as positive in that huddle as … probably more positive than I was,” the CU coach said. “He’s like, ‘You know, guys, just keep believing. We’re fine. Let’s get some stops and get this train back on the track.’ And we did. A lot of that had to do with KJ and his attitude in the huddle. I truly believe that. So he’s got an influence on this team in a very positive way. Much like Chauncey did.”

Want to talk influence? In the final four minutes of a see-saw First Four tilt in Dayton, Simpson put up eight points, two rebounds and an assist. For the NCAA tourney, he’s averaging 14 points, 3.5 boards and 2.5 dimes in the second half.

Yet if you scour the three Associated Press All-American teams, No. 2 is nowhere to be found. Criminal.

“Growing up in California and my name not getting talked about as much as everybody else’s, being short on a lot of awards (and) a lot of accolades individually that should’ve been, I feel (might) have gone my way,” Simpson said after bursting Florida’s bubble.

“But it’s just going out there and proving everybody right … that’s my mentality. As long as I play hard and play great, be a great teammate, be a great leader for this team, go out there and put in the work, eventually, everything is going to pay off. That’s just my mentality. And I know with that (Gators) shot, people are going to know my name, for sure.”

Playoff Jamal, meet Tourney Simpson. Has the inevitable ever been this much stinking fun?

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