WEST LAFAYETTE – Despite it being a new men's basketball season, there are some things that haven't changed within the Purdue program.
The Boilermakers played with decent effort throughout the harder-than-expected 80-73 win over the NCAA Division II Indianapolis in front of 12,178 fans at Mackey Arena on Wednesday. Yet 10th-year coach Matt Painter still wasn't entirely pleased with the effort of his team (the Greyhounds matched Purdue on the glass at 43 rebounds each), which is a familiar refrain from a year ago.
Returning starter A.J. Hammons sat out the game due to being suspended for three games after violating team rules. So levels of immaturity are still existent with this group, but in fairness, less so, than last season.
And the “Paint Crew” still performed the all-too-familiar “IU sucks” chant, despite the fact that no one affiliated with the Hoosiers will step foot in West Lafayette until next year.
Some things never change.
But you can't say that about Boilermaker forward Jay Simpson. The young man has altered himself, his lifestyle, and without question, his ability to help his team succeed on the court.
“He's done a good job,” Painter said. “He's got a long way to go (though).”
But he's come a long way already.
It was in an early game last season, when Simpson lumbered, hauling his 283-pound body up the court in transition. A Boilermaker guard – as everyone had – beat Simpson up the court and shifted direction. Simpson was so out of shape and immobile that he couldn't avoid his teammate and fell over him.
A few days later, Painter decided to not waste a season on his injured and out-of-shape freshman and redshirted Simpson.
And that is when the youngster got to work.
“I got into the mentality that I've got to change my body,” Simpson explained. “I just didn't want to let coach Painter down.”
He certainly hasn't done that. Simpson limited fried foods, took advantage of the fact that he “loves salads and vegetables,” and has dropped nearly 40 pounds. He's stronger, more athletic, more agile, and simply a whole lot better.
Late in Wednesday's game, Indianapolis tore up the court on a fast break and Simpson took chase. He actually got to the baseline simultaneously with the Greyhound guard and blocked the lay-in attempt. It was a feat that wouldn't have just been unthinkable a year ago, but impossible.
“Jay was great,” Indianapolis coach Stan Gouard said.
Gouard's hometown (Danville, Ill.) is just a long jumper from Simpson's (Champaign), and he is very familiar with the Purdue youngster, and has been for years.
“I saw a lot of Jay in high school,” Gouard explained, “he played against a lot of my nephews. He has made some tremendous strides. He's going to be a match-up problem.”
Simpson played 20 minutes on Wednesday, and Painter wasn't satisfied with his offensive efficiency (he made just 3 of 10 shots), but the fact that he was running the floor, defending late in the game and battling for rebounds (he finished with five) was a huge step in the right direction.
“He's got to learn how to be productive when he's fatigued,” Painter said, “especially on the defensive end. But there is no doubt that he has made some significant progress.”