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October 30, 2012
This was only the beginning.
Rapheal Davis, A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson and Jay Simpson made their Purdue debuts on Tuesday night against Montevallo, and all showed glimpses of the special qualities that attracted Coach Matt Painter to them.
Johnson started at point guard and handed out a team-high six assists to only two turnovers in 26 minutes. He defended on the ball at points, pushed the ball on offense and did a nice job finding teammates for open looks.
Hammons, the 7-footer, gave the Boilermakers a legit post presence, mostly playing on the blocks during his 15 minutes and produced offense off post-up and rebounds. His five rebounds were second-most on the team, and he also had a block.
Davis didn't necessarily showcase all of his offensive skills by making only one of his six shots - scoring is "his deal," Painter said - but he there was poise there, still grabbing three rebounds, having two assists and blocking a shot in 18 minutes.
Simpson, whom Painter thinks could be the most skilled of the group of true freshmen, still is working to get his conditioning up. He played only nine minutes but had two rebounds and took two shots.
"We all played pretty good," Johnson said. "I think we all held our own out there."
Johnson said he had some "butterflies," and Davis admitted to being a bit nervous in his first game in Mackey Arena, but both got the jitters out quickly.
They're just excited to continue to take the court and improve, as individuals and in gaining chemistry with teammates.
And they should all get that chance this season.
Painter said Simpson may be the most likely candidate "in theory" to redshirt, but Purdue doesn't have another player with his skill set either.
"Jay Simpson gives you something other guys don't have. He can dribble, pass and shoot, and I think he's 254, he's lost about 25 pounds now, so he's moving in the right direction with his weight," Painter said. "I told him I won't play him Nov. 9 until he's 250. But he's moving in that direction to be at that point. He just gives you something. He can shoot threes. He can drive the ball. He can score in the post a little bit, and he has a little versatility."
Johnson may have the most pressure, considering his position. But Painter isn't worried about handing the reins to a freshman as talented as Johnson, who has been praised for his vision and quickness.
He doesn't seem concerned either.
"I'm looking forward to winning a lot of games this year," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting all of my teammates involved, but winning is the thing I'm most looking forward to, getting to the Big Ten championship."
The freshmen certainly will play a pivotal role to any kind of success.
And they all know it and hope to live up to expectations.
"I think I can do a lot for the team, whether it's the little things or scoring the ball and rebounding," Davis said. "I'm a bigger guard, so I think I can help this team get a lot of wins and a Big Ten championship.
"Every chance I get, just go in and play hard. If you're playing hard, Coach said he'll play you. So as long as I'm playing hard, I should be all right."
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