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Painter back and ready for new Purdue challenges

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - 11:44 pm

Fatigue? Sure, Matt Painter has that. Disappointment? You'd better believe it when a shot at a World University Games gold medal slipped away with a two-point defeat.

No matter, there are new obstacles to overcome, new opportunities to contemplate. Some see Purdue basketball as slipping from its top-10 perch to middle of the Big Ten mediocrity. Painter sees that as just plain wrong.

“We're taking it as a challenge,” he says. “We have very good pieces. Our strength is our defense and our ability to play together.”

Painter has been back from China for a week after his U.S. team went 7-1 at the World University Games, tying for the best record in the field, but failed to win a medal because of a 76-74 quarterfinal loss to Lithuania. He quickly jumped into Boiler individual workouts, which means he's been full throttle since the end of June, including the grueling July travel ball recruiting grind, with no real chance for a break until, perhaps, April.

“Any time you travel like that and put in that kind of time, to piggy back off of recruiting, it does wear you down a little,” Painter says, “but the experience helps you become a better coach and helps the exposure of your program. Any time you can make those type of improvements to better yourself and your program, I think it's worth doing.”

Now the focus returns to Purdue, which has to overcome the loss of two of the best players in program history -- JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Both are rookies set to play for the NBA's Boston Celtics if owners and players can reach a labor agreement.

Painter was in this position in 2007, when Carl Landry and David Teague graduated. The Boilers nearly won the Big Ten title the next season.

“We still have a lot of experience,” Painter says. “We have several guys returning that have started. We lose our two leading scorers, but six of those (returning) guys have played major minutes. I'm looking forward to putting these guys together.”

It helps to have All-America forward Robbie Hummel, who missed all of last season with his second major knee injury. Hummel is full-go in workouts.

“He looks like he had good lateral movement,” Painter says. “He had good spring, kind of stopped on a dime for his pull-up. It's one of those things where time always tells, but from not seeing him for such a long time, he looked pretty good.”

So did freshman forward Jacob Lawson, who ruptured the Achilles' tendon of his right leg last January.

“He didn't look like he had the same spring to him that he did when I watched him in high school,” Painter says, “but for somebody who tore his Achilles and has only been going here for about a month in terms of being released for everything, I thought he was great. He did some good things and worked really hard in the individual workout.”

Purdue returns three starters from last year's 26-8 team in guards Lewis Jackson, D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith, plus part-time starters Kelsey Barlow and Terone Johnson.

Painter hopes for significant contribution from forward Travis Carroll and guard Anthony Johnson. Carroll was a reserve last year while Johnson redshirted. Both took their own overseas August trips.

The 6-9 Carroll played for a Global Sports Academy team that went 4-1 against squads from London, Brussels and the Netherlands. He averaged eight points and five rebounds.

The 6-3 Johnson, who has gained 12 pounds, to 185 pounds, in the last year, played for the East Coast All-Stars. They went 2-2 in the Four Nations Cup in Estonia. He averaged nine points.

“Any time guys don't play or play just a little bit, any game experience that you help them get helps them knock off the rust, especially for Anthony,” Painter says. “We want guys to be able to learn from their (college) experience, even if they don't play, but it's difficult when you're not in competition to make improvements.

“(Overseas trips) are something we have encouraged our players to do who either redshirt or don't play as many minutes as you'd have liked them to do. It helps for that next year. We've had a lot of guys go overseas to play, and it's helped them.”