WEST LAFAYETTE – A year ago, the Purdue men's basketball program was a case of the haves and the have-nots when it came to producing the needed internal competition that is necessary to field a successful team.
The end result was a losing year (16-18) and a whole lot of frustration on the part of Boilermaker fans, and even more so for Purdue coach Matt Painter.
That shouldn't be a problem this season.
Through two exhibition games at Mackey Arena, a number of things have shown themselves to be the case with this squad, but none more so than this: Purdue has a lot of depth that Painter can utilize this season.
“Hopefully, we can continue to have that depth,” Painter said following his team's 91-58 exhibition win over Wayne State (Neb.) on Monday in front of 11,911 fans, “and (also) that everyday improvement through just the competition.”
Last year, Painter could piece together a solid starting five, most of which played hard and smart. But the problems arose when Painter had to tap into his bench, where he couldn't get reliable or consistent production or play.
“That was something that really hurt us last year,” Painter said of the lack of depth. “We could put together a good team. But we couldn't put together two good teams.”
That won't be an issue this winter. Painter could draw names out of a hat with this group, play games with a dizzying number of combinations, and the results would be competitive every time out.
Sure, there are some standouts like sophomore A.J. Hammons and senior guard Terone Johnson. But the rest of the group? It's pick a player, any player, and you'll get a solid performance.
“The competition in practices has been really good this year,” sophomore wing Rapheal Davis said. “It's way better than it was last year. Coach Painter always says that you have to have eight or nine starters to have a pretty good team. I think we've got about eight or nine starters.”
Aside from Hammons, Painter could play freshman Basil Smotherman, redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, fifth-year forward Errick Peck, or senior Travis Carroll.
Peck could also play the wing along with Davis, while the backcourt is just a flock of ability with freshmen Bryson Scott and Kendall Stephens, as well as fifth-year senior Sterling Carter capable of filling the shooting guard spot behind Johnson, while Scott can also move over and battle sophomore Ronnie Johnson for the point guard job.
In all, there are 11 scholarship players and they can all contribute when called upon. And if they don't? Painter has options available, as opposed to last year when he had to sit and watch unproductive performances play out.
“I'm just trying to figure out our pieces,” Painter said. “I know that I'll have a tough time playing guys if I can't trust them. That is the most important piece, trying to work towards that.”
Fort Wayne players still growing
Painter has been able to “trust” Fort Wayne native Davis since about mid-season of last year, when the Boilermaker coach grew exhausted of watching others play the way that he didn't want his team to perform, so he Davis' minutes grew as the season progress.
That is still the case with the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward.
“Rapheal is going to be fine,” Painter said. “He's put in a lot of time in the off-season. I don't worry about Rapheal. I know that his head and his heart are in the right spot. He's always going to come and try to help Purdue win.”
Davis finished with 13 points in 17 minutes on Monday, while former Northrop High School standout Scott totaled 10 points on 5 of 10 shooting in 21 minutes. But Painter admitted not being overly concerned with the 6-foot-2 guard's production, it's his steadiness that the coach wants to see.
“Bryson is going to make something happen,” Painter explained. “He just has to learn when it's there. He could be overly aggressive on defense. He has to learn to be solid defensively. But he can put some major heat on the basketball.
“He has to learn to play without the basketball on offense and away from the basketball on defense.”