basketball Edit

Purdue's biggest star, Jaden Ivey has shined bright this season

Purdue's Jaden Ivey
Purdue's Jaden Ivey (USA Today Sports)

Purdue's basketball program has seen some real starpower come through its program during its modern era, from Robbie Hummel's household name cachet, to Caleb Swanigan's captivating story to Carsen Edwards' magnetism.

And there are others.

But through the Boilermaker program's history, there haven't been many Jaden Iveys.

He's been one of the biggest stars in college basketball this year, an ascension that began at the end of last season, then picked up steam during the summer when he played with USA Basketball, then hit its peak in November when Purdue won the loaded Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut.

He's been perhaps college basketball's most viral player, thanks to his breakneck speed, acrobatic nature, knack for big moments and his imaginative athleticism around the basket, not to mention his natural charisma.

His story has been one of the game's most repeated, him growing up around professional basketball as the son of Notre Dame women's basketball coach and former WNBA player Niele Ivey.

When Ivey does something big, Ja Morant — himself becoming a bigger NBA star by the day this season — tweets at him, the two of them having become close during Niele Ivey's season as an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies.

All that's come after, Ivey's been at the center of both the national college basketball and NBA draft conversations.

"It's something I've worked for, something I've always wanted, to have people know who I am and recognize me as a star, like you said," Ivey said, when asked specifically about being a "star." "Day by day, I just try to be humble and thank God for all my blessings."

An All-American who's helped Purdue to 29 wins heading into this weekend's Sweet 16 game against Cinderella story Saint Peter's, Ivey's development hasn't happened quickly.

He was a high-end athlete in high school, but he was not this, a physical force who'll not just fit in but stand out athletically at the NBA level from Day 1, when that time comes.

Ivey credits "that weight room" and strength and conditioning coach Braden Welsh for helping him along athletically, and that he's been able to build his wiry physique up to nearly 200 pounds and maintain that size and strength. Those gains have been apparent this season as he's really thrived finishing through contact and stayed mostly healthy, despite a cannonball sort of playing style. A player known best for blowing past people or jumping over them now scores through them, too.

Meanwhile, Ivey's decision-making as a lead guard — he's essentially Purdue's most involved ball-handler in transition, pick-and-roll, etc. — has improved considerably from his freshman season and his jump-shooting has progressed proportionally.

Last season, Ivey needed a late-season surge to finish at just under 26 percent from three-point range, on higher volume than was probably ideal at that stage of his career. This season, he's at 36.4 percent on slightly more attempts.

He beat Ohio State at the buzzer with a three, he tied the Wisconsin game in Madison in the final seconds with a three, and he made the biggest three of Purdue's Round of 32 win over Texas, two of the biggest threes, actually. The sorts of moments where teams generally fall back on their stars to make plays.

When Ivey got to Purdue, those around the program knew immediately that he'd be great, but he became so very quickly. He didn't formally dabble with the NBA draft a year ago, but had he, someone would have used a first-rounder on him, betting on striking gold before the boom.

A year later, Ivey's viewed as a top-five certainty this spring and credibly in the conversation to be Purdue's first No. 1 pick since Glenn Robinson, depending on which franchise hits the right ping-pong ball.

"It's all God's grace, for real," said Ivey, who obviously hasn't formally announced for the draft yet. "... God said, 'It's your time' and I've just been trusting His plan and taking it day by day, and the work I put in, I just have to keep doing it because it can take me a long way, and listening to what my coaches have to say. But it's all God that's taken me to a great place mentally and physically. I just have to thank Him and just keep going.

"It does make me work harder, because at any time, God can take it away from you. Each and every day, you've got to keep showing up, keep stacking up good days. Ever since people started talking about me, I just kept working."

He's done so through the sort of challenges that come with stardom.

Whether it's being stopped on the street for photos or autographs, or the glare of the NBA and all the business considerations that can't always wait until a college career ends, to the simple pitfalls of hubris, there's been a lot coming at and around Ivey all season.

(It's notable that even though Ivey is pretty much the poster boy for a brand that can be cashed in on during the new NIL Era, he's not done anything to that end, or at least nothing front-facing.)

"Any time you get that kind of attention, it can be kind of intoxicating," Coach Matt Painter said. "All the attention, the mock drafts, things of that nature, instead (of just getting to be) a 19-, 20-year-old sophomore in college and just having fun playing college basketball, and then dealing with those things afterwards.

"But when you're constantly living on your phone and social media like all of us do, it's right in front of you. It's no big deal to you or I, but when it's someone that young, who gets that kind of attention and has to keep that focus I think sometimes can be hard. Success messes with you more than failure."

It hasn't seemed to mess with Ivey, who has described his current state as "locked in" and looked the part through the postseason thus far.

In a season full of big games on a big stage, and all the pressure and scrutiny that come with them, now these games are the biggest and the pressure its most intense.

"Don't shy away from it," Ivey said. "Attack it. Kobe always said, 'You've got to attack pressure. Never run away from it.'

"Whatever I've got to do to help my team win. I feel like I've got to do a better job defensively to take our team to new heights at that end. And then offensively, I put a lot of hours in so that I can be confident when I step out there on the court, and trust the work I've put in on a daily basis and go out there with a mindset that no one can guard me."

Now, it's Purdue's star's time to star, but also, he says, to lead.

"I think I've just tried to build that through my play," Ivey said, "with how hard I play and the passion I play with, and just trying to bring everyone along and bring everyone together."

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