Donning a black jersey with the words "Colorado basketball" on the front, Peyton Carter flashes a smile that makes it clear she feels at home with the Buffaloes.
"It's a dream come true," she said. "It's been so much fun. I'm really excited for the season to start, but so far it's been a blast."
It may only be a practice jersey for now, but to Carter it means much more as she prepares for her first season with the CU women's basketball team. A freshman point guard from nearby Monarch High School, Carter has prepared for this moment for years.
"I've been to I don't know how many CU games, but I went to the camps when coach (Linda) Lappe was here," Carter said. "This has been my dream ever since I was little."
The first person to doubt her ability to realize the dream was actually Carter.
"When I was younger, I was like, 'I really want to play here, but I don't know if I'm good enough,'" she said. "I still didn't realize I was good enough until I started getting recruited. It was always a dream, but I always thought it was so far-fetched."
The 5-foot-8 Carter averaged 15.8 points and 3.5 assists at Monarch last year, helping the Coyotes to a 16-7 record. She was twice named first-team all-conference.
Coming out of Monarch, Carter had plenty of options for playing in college, but she kept her eyes on CU. Head coach JR Payne, entering her second season in Boulder, offered Carter a chance to walk on. Since then, Payne and CU have come to an agreement that she will be on scholarship for two of her seasons — this year and her senior year. (Carter hopes to earn a scholarship for the other two years).
"When she put me on scholarship this year, it also gave me a reassurance I'm meant to be here," Carter said.
In the last eight years, Carter is just the second in-state player to earn a scholarship to CU, joining Lauren Huggins (2012-17), but because Carter wasn't a blue-chip recruit, she's heard plenty of doubt from others.
"I always heard people say, 'You're never going to play (at CU); you're going to sit the bench,'" Carter said. "I have so many people to prove wrong. Obviously I have people who supported me all along, but I know there's people that are like, 'She's not good enough to go there.'"
The early returns are positive.
Of course, star junior Kennedy Leonard will start at point guard, while senior Brecca Thomas brings maturity and experience off the bench, but Payne has been very impressed with Carter.
"She is everything you want in a collegiate basketball player," Payne said. "She's a great teammate. She's loyal, she's honest, she's hardworking. She's great in the classroom. As far as basketball goes, she is one of our best shooters. She's very heady, a true point guard. She sees that things are open before a lot of other people see that they're open. She makes smart decisions.
"She is an absolute joy to have on our team. I'm really happy she's here."
Carter is thrilled, too. She has no idea what kind of role she'll play this season, but is happy to do what's asked. For now, she's absorbing all she can from her coaches, Leonard and Thomas.
"In the summer, we didn't do much practice-wise, but I still got to learn from (Leonard) in the weight room and watching how many shots she puts up," Carter said. "She's always in a gym and that's an inspiration for me. Seeing how far she's come and knowing that if I want to come that far, too, I should look up to her."
Like most freshmen, Carter learned quickly that the college game is more fast-paced than the game in high school. Yet, it hasn't taken her long to realize that she most definitely belongs on the court with the Buffs.
"In the summer, when I was in practice I was like, 'I'm just as good as anyone here,'" she said. "I worked my butt off to get here."
Carter is partially driven by those who have doubted her. More than anything, however, she's fueled by the fact that her dream is coming true.
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