Purdue point guard Ronnie Johnson isn't a reserve — not in his preference, not in his performance.
Freshman Bryson Scott threatens to make him one.
Coach Matt Painter, you see, isn't beyond a little competitive motivation.
“Nothing is locked,” Painter said. “We need guys who are productive every day. If guys aren't going to be productive in practice, just because they had a good game, we'll have to go in another direction. That's the best thing (about) this team.”
Painter set the direction, and tonight it includes Central Connecticut State (0-1). He'll play his best players, and consistency is Priority No. 1.
“Last year we had guys who felt they didn't have to do certain things. Those are the certain things that help you become a winner," he said. "As a coach, you have to learn also. If that's the way they're going to handle success, taking a step backwards, then we need to play somebody else. That's true in any of our positions.”
Johnson has started 26 straight games, which is why it was a big deal when Scott started in his place at the exhibition game against the University of Indianapolis.
A bigger deal, in the long run, was Johnson winning his starting position back.
“Bryson won every competitive drill, but since (the Indianapolis exhibition), Ronnie has won them all,” Painter said. “If you look at the plus-minuses in the last two games, Ronnie has the best, and it's not even close.
“Bryson has created that competition at that position. It's healthy. It probably was frustrating for Ronnie. As a player you always think you're going hard. As a coach you sometimes have a different thought. Ronnie wasn't maximizing the ability he has. Since then he's shown when he plays hard.”
Johnson thrived when it mattered most Friday night against Northern Kentucky, making good decisions and hitting the game-winning free throws. He finished with 18 points (13 in the second half) and was 2 for 2 from three-point range, huge for a guy who averages 21.1 percent for his career.
That's fine, Painter said. Now do it all the time.
“His leadership gets enhanced by the way he played at the end of the game. He has to do a better job of taking care of the ball. He can't have four turnovers, especially the type of turnovers he had. He's too quick, too talented, too smart to have those kind of turnovers.
"At the end he made the right decisions and was able to make a couple of big free throws. Leadership is an action.Hopefully he can build off that.”
There were times against Northern Kentucky when Scott and Johnson played together. That might happen more as the season goes on, Painter said.
“They can do a good job of playing together and sharing the ball,” Painter said. “Bryson is more of a lead guard rather than a point guard. He's very aggressive.”
The biggest obstacle to that is senior Terone Johnson, the Boilers' catalyst. The All-Big Ten pick averaged a team-leading 13.5 points last season.
“Terone has put himself in a good spot,” Painter said. “He's been our most consistent guy.”
Purdue sophomore center A.J. Hammons makes his season debut after a lesson-teaching three-game suspension. The goal is for Hammons to be more formidable on the court and more mature off it.
Last year he earned Big Ten all-freshman team honors (averaging 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks) and has generated speculation he might jump to the NBA next spring.
Hammons will have to earn that opportunity, just as he'll have to earn a return to starting status. Jay Simpson took Hammons' spot during the suspension, and Painter wouldn't say who will start against Central Connecticut State.
“You have to do what's best for your program,” Painter said. “A.J. made a mistake, and there were consequences for it. It was a three-game suspension. It was not a four-game suspension. It also opened up an opportunity for somebody else to do something to make him have to come off the bench. I don't think that's occurred. I'm not saying he will or won't start. I'm saying you have to do what's best for this team.”
What's needed from Hammons when he does play?
“Just effort," Painter said. "Being consistent. Let the game come to him when he has the ball in the post. Running on both ends. Dominating the glass. Just being assertive.”
Central Connecticut State opened its season with a 93-77 loss to Yale.