Rapheal Davis and Bryson Scott are gearing for Purdue's basketball reclamation.
Consecutive losing seasons have fueled lots of fires, inside and outside the program, and Davis and Scott are at the forefront. Will these Fort Wayne products (Davis from South Side, Scott from Northrop) help make the necessary difference?
That's the goal.
“They are making strides,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Both guys are workers. Both guys put in a lot of time.
“The opportunity is there for both of them to be really successful.”
Painter rarely proclaims success until its proven. He likes what he's seen during these early summer workouts, but that's just another step in the process.
Scott continues his transition from do-it-all scoring guard in high school and travel ball to a true college point guard. Last season, as a freshman, he averaged 6.2 points, but negated that with 46 turnovers against 44 assists and down-the-stretch struggles.
Davis has to become an all-around force that could see him playing every position other than center. Last season he averaged 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds, but was far more effective in the final month.
“Bryson is really learning that position,” Painter said. “He has a lot of physical tools. He's a hard-working guy. He puts in a lot of time on his game. He has a passion for the game. Now he has to learn to play that position and how to run a team.
“Ray has been all over for us. Offensively, continue to put in the time. Ray shoots a lot. He works on his game a lot. It's just getting his confidence. Once he gets that confidence, and starts knocking down shots, the rest of his game will piece together.
“Both of those guys have done a good job from an effort standpoint, but they have to make a big jump. Bryson has to make that jump from his freshman to sophomore year. Ray has to make the same from sophomore to junior year.”
Jumps also are needed by returning players Kendall Stephens (8.0 points), A.J. Hammons (10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, Big Ten-leading 96 blocks) and Basil Smotherman (5.0 points, 3.8 rebounds).
Lousy free throw shooting (a Big-Ten-worst 67.1 percent) and way too many turnovers (12.3 a game) ruined what could have been a bounce-back season. There were seven losses by seven or fewer points, two in overtime. Purdue lost its final seven games, and eight of its last nine, to plunge from NCAA tourney hopeful to Big Ten cellar dweller.
That 15-17 record, following a 16-18 disappointment, were huge blows for a program that had gone to six straight NCAA tourneys, including two Sweet 16s, while winning at least one postseason game every year.
“The one thing that jumps out in the last couple of years was we weren't always getting beat by our opponents, we were getting beat by ourselves,” Painter said. “It starts with us playing ball the right way. Taking care of the ball the right way.
“We weren't sharing the ball. We weren't selfless. That's what we have to have. We have to have that team swagger that we're out there for each other, that we're working together. We had that before. Sure, we had good players, but we had that. So even if you don't have the best talent, if have that and take care of the ball, if you make free throws and follow the scouting report, good things will happen.”
Purdue projects as an inside force if the 7-foot Hammons continues to improve and mature, and freshman Isaac Haas makes an impact that reflects his 7-2, 285-pound frame.
Hammons spent his first two college seasons on an inconsistent roller coaster, alternating between dominant and irrelevant with frustrating regularity. The fact he passed on entering the NBA Draft reflected the reality of his pro prospects (the No. 1 consensus -- stay in school) and the benefits likely to arise for him and the Boilers.
Haas brings intriguing possibilities. He rates among the nation's top-80 freshman prospects, is tied for the tallest player in school history, and will benefit from practicing with Hammons.
“He's just an imposing figure,” Painter said. “When you see him, he stops the record. He's 7-2, nearly 300 pounds. That speaks for itself. You don't see guys like that walking around the mall.
“There's an athlete inside there. We have to get him in good cardiovascular shape, and I think we will. He's a good athlete. He can move. He has a lot of energy. He's a good guy. He's excited to be at Purdue. He will help us a lot. It's a process, but he has great physical gifts.”
During that process, Painter will take a long look at everything, even his trademark man-to-man defense. Yes, that could mean zone, particularly if Haas and Hammons play together, which could happen.
“We'd have to zone,” Painter said. “We'd have to do some things differently, but you have to adjust to your personnel.
“In the past we had big guys who could really move. A.J. struggled last year when he got isolated a little bit. He struggled with ball-screen defense, so we'll look at some different things to help out those guys.”
Haas is one of five incoming freshmen in a top-30 recruiting class. The others are forwards JacQuil Taylor and Vince Edwards, and guards Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson.
“We've added some size with Jacquil Taylor (6-9, 215 pounds) and Isaac, obviously. The other three guys will really help us with our decision making. All three are really good passers. All three are really good skill guys who can dribble, pass and shoot. That's what we need. Last year we struggled taking care of the ball.”
That's a theme Painter continues to emphasize.
“You rewind three years ago with (point guard) Lewis Jackson, and (point forward) Rob Hummel and (guard) Ryne Smith and we were No. 1 in the country in fewest turnovers. That's a heck of an accomplishment.
“You push two seasons forward and you're second to last in the conference in turnovers, and not winning many games. On top of it you don't make your free throws. You're (last) in free throws. It's the difference in winning or losing five to six games.
“It's about decision making and just being on the same page. Last year we didn't have good chemistry. We have to do a better job of being together as one.”