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July 16, 2012
Italy practices commence for new-look Purdue
Anthony Johnson is a veteran of playing basketball overseas, having participated on a foreign exhibition tour last summer and traveling off the Lower 48 for a tournament in high school.
So he knows just how he'll handle August's 10-or-so-hour flight to Italy, where Purdue will play exhibition games in preparation for the 2012-13 season.
"When I'm on a plane I usually stand up every 45 minutes or so and stretch my legs," the sophomore guard said. "You don't want your legs to tighten up. If they do, then you don't have your speed, quickness or athleticism. ... It's definitely important to move around.
"I went to a tournament in Hawaii in high school and I sat the whole plane ride and I was just done."
As Johnson and his Boilermaker team tipped off practices in advance of the tour - their coaches squeezing Monday and Tuesday sessions in between the NCAA's first and second July recruiting evaluation periods - Purdue's goal is simply to get its legs under it.
"It's just basics," Coach Matt Painter said afterward. "We don't even put stuff in for a while. ... We're just trying to get guys to regain some old habits and for some of them, create new habits."
For the first time this year, the NCAA allowed coaches to coach their players in the summer, up to two hours per week. Those newly added workouts led up to practices like Monday's and could make for a significant advantage for a team breaking in several newcomers.
"We have a lot of new guys coming in, five if you count Donnie (Hale)," said senior D.J. Byrd, who practiced fully Monday after resting a stress fracture in his foot in June. "It's great for us, the more experience we can get, because we can see who works well together, who can shoot off or get to the basket off a ball screen, so we can play to our strengths and really try to find our roles on the team."
Monday's practice was a typically intense one, with Purdue conducting much of the same sort of work it would in October or December, even if the priorities were a bit different.
The team that took the floor on Cardinal Court Monday afternoon was a much, much different one than the group that pushed eventual national runner-up Kansas to its breaking point in March.
Gone are Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, though the latter remains as a student assistant coach and the program's resident trick-shot guru.
New are freshmen Ronnie Johnson, Rapheal Davis, A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson, though Simpson remains mostly sidelined as he recovered from foot surgery.
They'll loom large for Purdue in the winter. Ronnie Johnson, ready or not, will be asked to fill a gaping void at point guard, the game's most important position. Hammons and a healthy Simpson would factor into a corps of posts who represent a trade-off for size from last year's skill-heavy roster.
"With the workouts we've had, we've tried to do a better job establishing a post presence," Painter said. "We have a lot of size, but we have a lot of inexperience."
Purdue will have three centers on its roster next year - "they'll decide who plays," Painter said - and three others listed at 6-foot-8 or taller.
That group includes sophomore Jacob Lawson, who looked much improved from last season in Practice No. 1 - "The one guy that probably jumped out the first day was probably Jacob," Painter said - and redshirt freshman Donnie Hale, now a 230-pounder, going a long way toward answering one of the biggest questions about him: physicality.
Terone Johnson is headed in a different direction.
The junior guard dropped weight and looked noticeably quicker Monday, though a broken finger kept him out of much of practice. His availability for Italy is in no jeopardy, and it's hoped he'll participate to a greater extent when practices resume after these first two sessions conclude.
But he's a veteran. It's the young players who probably have the most to gain from the work that'll be done before Purdue gets on that plane.
"This is great, because we have so many young players," Painter said. "To get that kind of experience is great. Even the workouts, just having those really helped us. I hope it leads to us having a lot of success."
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