Boilers’ season even tougher than expected
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org March 26, 2013 7:02PM
Purdue Vs Nebraska Big Ten Basketball. Purdue No.20 A.J. Hammons shoots over Nabraska No.13 Brandon Ubel. March 14Th, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: April 28, 2013 6:52AM
WEST LAFAYETTE — Given the players who were lost, and the youthful composition of its roster, Purdue’s 2012-13 season likely was going to be a transitional one.
But the Boilermakers didn’t figure to endure quite as much of a struggle as they did.
Their summer trip to Italy didn’t exactly provide the head start on the regular season that they had hoped, as they underwent growing pains during their nonconference season — if expected, though not necessarily to that degree. The Big Ten season proved to be daunting — again, if expected.
For most of the season, Purdue had issues taking care of the ball, with its shot selection, defending up to its usual standards and, gulp, even with its effort, work ethic, toughness and competitiveness — traditional hallmarks of the program.
It appeared the light had come on for the Boilermakers in their final three games of the regular season — a win at Wisconsin, a near-upset of Michigan and a win against Minnesota — and even in their two previous games, a win against Northwestern and a hard-fought loss at Iowa. It was the kind of progress coach Matt Painter had envisioned seeing in late December or early January, not late February or early March.
But then the Boilermakers reverted to their previous form, flopping against Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, after they seemingly had generated considerable momentum, underscoring their all-over-the-map season.
With their run of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances over at six, they accepted a bid to the CBI — the first Big Ten team to do so — rallying to beat an undermanned Western Illinois, before losing to Santa Clara, at least showing fight in the process. They went 16-18, their first losing season since Painter’s first, when they went 9-19 in 2005-06.
Obviously, this team did not have that sort of season. And there’s plenty of reason to believe Purdue will be back in the NCAA tournament next season — but not without a rededication to its core principles.
Painter often talked about needing “12-month guys” who will put in time to improve their games, guys who have a passion to play. If practice starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 5:30, he doesn’t want players who arrive and leave right at those times; he “migrates” to players who come early and stay late.
“I don’t trust guys I don’t see; you live in that gym, I trust you,” Painter said after the conference tournament loss to Nebraska.
He also talked about the need for more and better decision-makers, and the need for more skill, citing Purdue’s 1-of-11 shooting from 3-point range against Santa Clara as one recent example.
The incoming recruiting class — Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman — should provide a healthy dose of those elements. Stephens, coming off shoulder surgery, immediately should be the team’s best shooter; Scott should bring a bulldog mentality; and Smotherman has considerable athleticism. It could be a lot to ask of freshmen, but they have the potential for early success.
And it’s not as if that trio will be alone — far from it, with the Boilermakers returning the bulk of their team. Terone Johnson will be a senior. A.J. Hammons has barely scratched the surface of his enormous ability, as he gains needed maturity. Ronnie Johnson seems on his way to developing into a high-end point guard. With his commitment and attitude, Rapheal Davis emerged as a leader. Painter went out of his way to praise the “energy” Sandi Marcius brought the last month of the season. Also, Jay Simpson, who Painter has described on several occasions as the team’s most talented player, redshirted this season.
It remains to be seen if Purdue adds or loses any players in the spring.
Outgoing seniors D.J. Byrd and Dru Anthrop challenged Terone Johnson, as well as Marcius and Travis Carroll, to lead the Boilermakers’ efforts to re-establish their identity.
“They asked us, can we get the program back to Purdue basketball?” Terone said after the loss to Santa Clara. “These guys have been working hard and been getting a lot better. Next year starts right now.”
And the focus?
“Energy throughout the whole team,” he said. “We’re playing Division I basketball at a Big Ten university, and people were kind of taking that for granted at first. And working hard every day, consistently. Being consistent throughout the whole season — I don’t think anybody was consistent all the way through, including myself.”