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Plenty of value in Purdue's upcoming trip to Spain

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Purdue hasn’t even left for its overseas trip to Spain and, already, the program is seeing the benefits of such an excursion.

Being able to log 10 official practices in advance has allowed players to experience a feeling-out period on the court with new pieces and others in new roles while being coached by the full staff.

Matt Painter has been able to inundate newcomers Carsen Edwards and Spike Albrecht with the free-flowing parts of Purdue’s offense and drill them on the team’s defensive principles.

But even returning players are using the extra time in structured sessions to adjust. Isaac Haas is the team’s unquestioned No. 1 big man now with A.J. Hammons gone, and he’s learning how to carry that load. Jacquil Taylor likely is going to have a significant role as the only real post backup, so he’s learning what that looks like and where he fits in. Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias will have more minutes, too, and they’re learning to adjust their offensive games to be more aggressive, especially as it relates to putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble instead of just settling for jump shots (though typically effective).

And with few subs — there are only 13 healthy bodies, three of which are non-scholarship players — the practices have been challenging, too, while also allowing players time to improve, develop and compete.

After Tuesday’s practice, the seventh of the allotted 10 before the trip, Painter categorized the sessions as “good.”

“We don’t have as many guys, so we’ve went a little shorter with our practices, but they’ve been pretty competitive and pretty functional,” Painter said. “We’ve tried to do more team stuff and less breakdown stuff. I think that’s more important when you’re playing in these kind of environments that we’re getting ready to play in.”

Mathias said the team is “way ahead of schedule” with being able to already install plays and formations months earlier than normal. And not having only open gyms right now has meant better defensive play — the coaches always stress that and they won’t let players get away with slacking in that area in a structured practice environment.

“We’re getting more of our offense in, different plays and stuff, so when it comes time to practice in the fall, you’ve been through some of this stuff, you know what to expect. The learning curve goes a little faster now,” Mathias said.

The Boilermakers leave for Spain on Sunday, the day after an instrasquad scrimmage that’s open to the public at Lafayette Jefferson High School, and will play four games over 10 days.

Painter likely will use several lineups against Euro Colegio Casvi, Albacete Basket, the Barcelona Region All-Stars and the European Basketball Academy. But, mostly, the games will serve as key opportunities for the returning players to get accustomed to the playing styles of the newcomers.

Edwards is a combo guard who has struggled to adjust to Purdue’s defensive principles — as all freshmen do under Painter — but he’s impressed with an offensive skill that includes athleticism and explosion to get the rim and also a steady shooting touch. Albrecht is learning to fit in, too. So, though the expectation will be to win, it could be just as interesting to see what that looks like.

“(I want to see us) just being competitive and going hard and being smart and under control,” junior Vince Edwards said. “With that being said, it’s going to be all of our first time together. We have a nice core back but we have some new guys, especially with Carsen at point guard, we’re trying to get in the mix and Spike as well. There’s going to be some sloppy play at times. It’s faster, it’s 24 instead of 30 seconds (on the shot clock), but as long as we’re playing hard, talking, playing our butts off, that’s all that matters to me.”

Painter is interested to see how players respond to potentially adverse situations and struggle. He recalled how his last team that went overseas — to Australia — won only two of five games, but they had to learn how to play without a point guard with Lewis Jackson and Keaton Grant out.

“It made other people step up and play a position and we weren’t as good. We needed those two guys. But, still, the experience really helped us,” Painter said.

But the value doesn’t only lie in basketball.

Painter and players said they’re eager to have time to bond as a team, and that’ll happen organically as they’re with each other nearly every minute over the nearly two-week span that’s typically been a time players are at home.

“You’re the only people you’ve got while you’re there,” Caleb Swanigan said. “You’re the only one you know out there. You travel in packs.

“Just time spent — you can’t make up for that. You can’t simulate that, as far as spending time together.”

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