You might think Purdue's basketball run of excellence is about to hit a detour.
Coach Matt Painter doesn't want to hear it.
As for talk about shaky Boiler recruiting?
Get a clue.
Sure, All-Big Ten standouts JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have graduated and are eyeing NBA opportunity. The Boilers seem scary thin inside other than All-America forward Robbie Hummel, and he's coming off two knee surgeries that cost him all of last season.
No matter. Returning veterans can step up. Incoming freshman forwards Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson can make impacts.
Don't believe it? Painter offers proof. In 2007, the Boilers went 9-7 in the Big Ten behind senior standouts Carl Landry and David Teague. The next season, with Hummel, Moore and Johnson making major freshman contributions, they went 15-3.
Yes, Painter has mentioned that to his players. It will become next season's constant theme.
“Sometimes you get consumed with what you lose,” he said. “We lose a lot, but if we're going to talk about JaJuan and E'Twaun and not talk about the guys on our team, I don't think we'll go forward.
“They were great players. They did a lot of great things, but going forward we have to figure out some things to help this team. It's important to lay that groundwork with your players. You are good enough.”
As seniors, Landry averaged 18.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, and Teague averaged 14.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. As freshmen, Johnson averaged 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds, and Moore averaged 12.9 points and 3.9 rebounds.
“You could argue that David Teague had a better senior year than E'Twaun had a freshman year,” Painter said. “Nobody replaced Carl Landry that next year. But we had a better team. That's all that matters. We have some programs across the country that are able to do that. It is a team sport and you do have to play together.”
Togetherness means replacing the 40 points and 13 rebounds Johnson and Moore combined to generate last year while leading Purdue to its fourth straight season of at least 25 victories. It will help if a healthy Hummel can better his career averages of 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds. The Boilers return three starters in guards Lewis Jackson (7.9 points, 3.9 assists), D.J. Byrd (5.2 points, 3.0 rebounds) and Ryne Smith (5.8 points, 2.5 rebounds).
Guard Kelsey Barlow should be back from his postseason suspension. Center Travis Carroll will get a starting shot. Guards Terone Johnson, John Hart and Anthony Johnson, plus forward Sandi Marcius, should see significant action.
“Each guy has to work on his game and improve,” Painter said. “As a staff we're figuring out how we can manufacture a better shot. With E'Twaun and JaJuan we sometimes halted our offense and tried to isolate them because we thought we had the matchups in our advantage. They needed some space to play.
“I don't know if we'll do that next season. We'll try to be more efficient with our offense and try to get more layups and get to the free-throw line more. Get more open shots. We have a lot of good perimeter shooters. That's going to be important.”
As far as recruiting, Indiana has dominated the news for the last year by landing high-profile players such as Washington's Cody Zeller, while Purdue has gotten more under-the-radar guys. Still, Hale and Lawson address the Boilers' inside needs, and Painter already has four highly regarded commitments for the Classes of 2012 and 2013. That includes South Side's Raphael Davis in the Class of 2012 and Northrop's Bryson Scott in the Class of 2013.
Painter, like Gene Keady before him, thrives with players who don't mesmerize recruiting experts. Former Huntington North standout Chris Kramer, for instance, wasn't highly ranked coming out of high school yet was a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year. Keaton Grant was another low-profile recruit who scored 1,031 points in his career.
“You see a lot of different things that get said about recruits,” Painter said. “Nobody talked about Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant as far as recruits, but they were pretty successful and were pretty good.
“(Recruiting experts) don't ever do the work on the back end (after players graduate) and say, you know what, we were wrong. Those guys were pretty good. They just write about the next recruit that has a lot of stars in front of his name and who can run and jump. That's not necessarily how it is. If you can get guys who understand organized basketball and play together, you give yourself a chance.”