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April 25, 2013

Young again





Purdue was young this season. Next season, it won't exactly be old.

After the spring exodus of three upperclassmen, Purdue will return just two seniors and zero juniors.

That means of the 10 players the Boilermakers currently have on scholarship, eight are underclassmen.

It's possible, maybe likely, Purdue will bring in an older player in the form of a senior transfer, but even then, he'd be a first-year addition and thus inexperienced in a Purdue setting.

Instead, Purdue will be rely heavily on a sophomore class that gained valuable experience this season, and four freshmen (including the redshirted Jay Simpson).

Inexperience was so obviously a hindrance as Purdue endured its first losing season since 2005-06.

Coach Matt Painter was asked earlier in the week why next season might be different, with even fewer older players.

"We've got three sophomores who started and played a lot and all three of them are talented," Painter said of A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis. "We've got Jay Simpson who's been through a year of practice and Donnie Hale who's been through two years. We're still not an unbelievably experienced team but we've still got some experience with talented guys that have played major minutes. We have four guys who have played 30 minutes for us. We're returning four starters and I think the rest of the team has the chance to start. I think that's a positive."

Senior Terone Johnson is Purdue's most experienced player and may be its most relied-upon next season on many fronts.

Otherwise, Purdue will hope its sophomores are better off for the experience they gained as rookies. That experience was substantial.

Hammons, Ronnie Johnson and Davis combined to start 72 games in 2012-2013, with all three finishing the season in the starting five. Johnson averaged 31 minutes, Hammons 23 and Davis just under 19.

And, it should be noted, that Purdue probably won't have to rely on first-year players as much next season.

Last season, the Boilermakers had almost no choice but to live and die with Ronnie Johnson at point guard and stick with him through thick and thin. Hammons at center immediately established himself as a player Purdue needed on the floor as much as possible.

Those are maybe the two most important positions on the floor, and spots where Purdue had to simply survive through young players' inconsistency.

This year, the needs shouldn't be as pressing.

Shooting is a dire concern for Purdue heading into next season, an element it's hoped Kendall Stephens, in particular, can provide. But otherwise, there doesn't appear to be any glaring void the Boilermakers will have to turn over to rookies to either sink or swim.

Painter expects his debuting players to contribute profoundly, though.

"I think all four of those guys will play for us next year," Painter said. "I think they have a great opportunity in front of them to be able to make an impact.

"It's going to depend on how well they do this summer and then in the fall. With Kendall Stephens, it's going to be with his shoulder and the rehab and the ability to get back and get to 100 percent. Kendall has a great opportunity to step in right away and play, as do Basil Smotherman and Bryson Scott."

Simpson might be particularly important.

Painter wants a team that's more "skilled," especially in the frontcourt, where Purdue would like to create favorable matchups at the 4 position.

Simpson, a 6-8, 260, has a Big Ten body type, but also ball-handling, shooting and passing abilities that belie his size.

In a frontcourt that's lost two bodies in Sandi Marcius - assuming he follows through with his intentions to leave - and Jacob Lawson, there is obviously a major opportunity awaiting Simpson, who played 10 games this season before shutting down to pursue a medical redshirt.

"We've just got to keep working with him and he's got to stay healthy. I think it's fair to say that Jay playing as a center and as 4 will help us with versatility," Painter said. "We're going to have to get productive minutes out of him for the long haul. He really causes a mismatch when centers have to guard him. I see it every day at practice. It's really his niche when it comes to the offensive end. He can take a guy out and shoot perimeter jump shots and drive the ball and even pass, or even play out of the post and use his quickness. He's got a lot of deceptive moves for a big guy where he can get from A to B pretty quick. He's got to do a better job of finishing plays."

Simpson's promise is significant.

But ...

"If the game were halfcourt, he's as good as any big guy we have in the Big Ten next year, but I don't think the Big Ten is just going to let us play halfcourt games," Painter joked. "If you came to our practices and watched him in a halfcourt setting, he is really impressive. Now he has just got to continue from a cardiovascular standpoint. He has had asthma issues his whole life and that has been difficult for him. We have done some things that have helped him and he is doing better at keeping that under control. Any time you have asthma and get a cold, or the weather changes, it is a little bit harder on him, so him eating right and taking care of his body and getting into good sleeping habits, all of that ties in and hopefully he can get some consistency in those areas and that can really help him."

If Simpson is ready to be a front-line player for Purdue, it could give the Boilermakers tremendous options, the ability to play big without sacrificing much skill, if any.

The past two seasons, Painter has switched to small lineups to help his teams score.

"I'm going to start the guys who play the hardest," Painter said, a nod of sorts to the 6-5 Davis winning out at the 4 last season with his effort more than anything. "I've tried to look at things from a perspective of playing big or playing small and I've tried to fit some guys into some spots where they are ideal, but we are not getting the effort needed. I couldn't care less whether we go big or small. We'll play five centers or five point guards. I'm going to play the guys who play the hardest."




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