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May 2, 2013

Shooting turnaround dependent on improvement

Purdue's most glaring weakness is one it might have to rely simply on individual improvement to remedy.

The Boilermakers were a deficient shooting team in 2012-13, to the point where their offense improved as they simply stopped trying. Or, at least, tried less.

Purdue, against its best interests as it turned out, came out firing, shooting an average of 14.1 threes per game in non-conference play, making 4.2.

In Big Ten games, the difference was modest, but bears noting that the Boilermakers made more threes (4.3 per game) while shooting fewer (12.6).

For the season, Purdue shot 32 percent from distance - only Nebraska, Iowa and Penn State shot worse in the Big Ten - a polar-opposite result from the year prior, when the trio of Robbie Hummel, Ryne Smith and D.J. Byrd made the Boilermakers one of the most three-point reliant, and dangerous, shooting teams out there. That team set a school record for made threes.

But Hummel and Smith graduated, leaving Byrd as the team's lone true "shooter," per se, and even then, with the senior playing around far less experience and far fewer fellow threats than he had prior in his career.

Now, Byrd is gone, too, taking away Purdue's most accomplished and combustible shooter. Byrd shot 36 percent this season from three, 39 in Big Ten games, but the threat of him making shots mattered as much as him making shots, sometimes. Throughout his career, he was good for the occasional game-changing outburst of threes, like his first-half onslaught at Clemson this past season or at Minnesota the year prior.

So now, the question is how Purdue not only maintains its three-point acumen from a year ago - if you can call it that - but improve it.

The easy answer is incoming freshman Kendall Stephens, a 6-foot-5 guard who'd rank among the best, and purest, shooters coming out of the 2013 high school class.

But he's coming off shoulder surgery. He's passed every test thrown at him thus far and remains on pace to be fully recovered in time to enroll in June, but he's recovering nonetheless. And still a freshman. And there's only one of him.

Purdue has sought help in the fifth-year transfer market, and the possibility remains it could add a shooter in coming weeks, but there are no guarantees. Purdue is not the only school in college basketball that wouldn't mind adding an investment-free jump-shooter to its roster.

Incoming additions Basil Smotherman, a versatile forward, and Bryson Scott, a scoring guard, can shoot the three, but it would not be considered the strength of either player's games. A component, but not necessarily a strength.

So that leaves the onus of returning players' summer work.

Coach Matt Painter has lamented repeatedly the need for a "more skilled player" on his roster, a recruiting issue, but that won't change overnight. Returning players will need to make themselves so.

When asked who might be able to make shots for Purdue in 2013-2014, Painter said, "Hopefully all of them."

Two players in particular who'll be needed to make strides are leading scorer Terone Johnson and sophomore-to-be point guard Ronnie Johnson.

Terone Johnson isn't known for his shooting, but he didn't have a bad junior season, finishing at just under 35 percent, up from the 31 percent he shot as a sophomore.

"When he takes rhythm threes, he's a good three-point shooter, but he just doesn't always take a good shot," Painter said. "So as he gets older and matures, he just has to take a good shot."

Ronnie Johnson encountered similar challenges as a freshman, going 6-of-36 for the season. In Big Ten games, though, he attempted only 11 and made four, cutting back on his free-wheeling ways of earlier in the season to his benefit.

By the end of the season, he was making more mid-range jumpers, perhaps a sign his shot in general was coming around.

With both Terone Johnson and Ronnie Johnson, Painter points to their productivity in high school as reason to believe both are capable of more.

"Ronnie Johnson shot 40 percent from three his senior year of high school," Painter said. "You might not think that after watching him, but he took a lot of shots at the beginning of the season that were out of rhythm, 25 seconds on the shot clock. He didn't take the right shot, so when he got to the point where he struggled. He got to 1-for-8 or 2-for-22 (for the season). He took them at the wrong time. He just kept taking them after we said not to; so we just said, 'Hey stop shooting.' Like he didn't understand this is about Purdue, that this is about us getting a good shot every time down. We just had too much inexperience."

Then there's sophomore-to-be Rapheal Davis, a fixture on Keady Court long before home games, working on his shot. He was 10-of-33 for the season.

"Raphael Davis, he has such a good work ethic," Painter said. "I don't know if he will be a great three-point shooter, but in time, from an opportunistic standpoint that when they give it to him, he will be able to knock it down. I know he will put in the work and make those."

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