WEST LAFAYETTE – The evaluation of Jay Simpson is not an easy one according to Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter.
The freshman forward had his best outing of the young season on Tuesday, as the Boilermakers (4-4) easily disposed of Lamar 72-39 in front of 12,721 fans at Mackey Arena. So that gave Purdue fans a bit of excitement at what the future holds for Simpson.
“Jay can play inside and he can play outside,” Painter said. “I thought he could play the 4 (position) and the 5.”
Against the Cardinals (1-7), Simpson showed why Painter has confidence in him. He connected on three of his four shots, and finished the night totaling a season-best six points and five boards.
But Simpson also exhibited why he shouldn't have even been in uniform.
Simpson showed up in West Lafayette this summer with an injured foot and a whole lot of extra weight. That prohibited him from competing during Purdue's summer tour in Italy, as well as many pre-season training sessions.
“He started this mess at 280 (pounds),” Painter said. “Now he's at 242.”
Simpson has made tremendous strides physically, but his conditioning remains so poor (which for a 19-year-old elite athlete, is actually hard to fathom) that Painter can't play him extended minutes.
“He can't play over three or four minutes, he just can't,” Painter said. “He just ran into the ball tonight.”
Yes, the 12,000-plus fans witnessed that incident.
Painter was talking about a possession, in which an exhausted Simpson stumbled up the court and inexplicably ran into Purdue senior guard Dru Anthrop, who had no one around him, and knocked the ball to a Lamar defender.
“He fell over Dru, literally,” Painter said.
Simpson's ability isn't being debated by anyone. But if the kid can't play more than 180 seconds before being subbed in for, why exactly is Painter wasting a season of eligibility on him?
“You could argue that you are correct,” Painter said when I asked if redshirting Simpson wouldn't have served him and the program better. “I just didn't think that we had enough people that could score.”
How valuable is this guy's 2.6 points per game? Enough to waste a year on?
Finding fault with Painter's decision-making in his eight seasons is a bit like complaining that the lighting was slightly poor during the Victoria Secret's Fashion Show. He's shown that he knows what he's doing and I have the utmost respect for how he runs the Boiler program.
However, it is unquestionable in my mind that having a 23-year-old (and presumably in shape) Simpson would help the Boilers much more than watching him fall over teammates this season.
And even Painter agrees with me.
“I look at it a lot like you just said it,” Painter said.
If Purdue's dilemma is that it doesn't have post players capable of producing offensively, then that is a recruiting and player development problem. You don't resolve that issue, to any credible degree, by playing Simpson seven minutes a night (which is what he was averaging entering Tuesday's game).
“He would play more if he was in better shape,” Painter said. “Hopefully, he can get a little bit better. But I don't think it is coming overnight.”
Then what are we doing here?
Painter has spoken repeatedly about how difficult it is to play all of his frontcourt players, because he has six of them this year. A case in point is redshirt junior Sandi Marcius.
Marcius earned starts during last spring's NCAA Tournament, and continued that solid play into the Italy trip. He earned three starts earlier this season, but Painter hasn't found any minutes for him in the two preceding games (against Clemson and Xavier). That leaves a talented enough (relatively speaking) player, that was worthy of starting against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, sitting on the bench with the managers.
That's acceptable if it is a young player being groomed for the future. It's a waste of a scholarship if he is in his fourth year in West Lafayette.
Freshman center A.J. Hammons has an abundance of talent – at both ends of the floor. The 7-footer is averaging nearly nine points and six boards. There is Painter's offensive production he so covets.
He should have planned to play Hammons in the post for 25 minutes each night. Purdue could have then relied on Marcius for 10 to 12 minutes each game and junior forward Travis Carroll for the other three, if needed.
At the power forward spot, Carroll, sophomore Jacob Lawson, and redshirt freshman Donnie Hale could've battled it out for the allotted 40 minutes, and on some nights, Painter could've even went with four perimeter players and played D.J. Byrd at that spot (The Boilermakers did that a bunch of times last year).
“I just thought that (Simpson) was too good to redshirt,” Painter said. “I just didn't think we had enough weapons scoring the basketball on this team. But there is no doubt, what you said (about redshirting Simpson); I'm a big believer in that.”
Unfortunately for both Purdue and Simpson, it's too late now. His year has been burned and that is a waste and a shame.