If you're going to take the dare and read about Purdue basketball this year, we need to start somewhere. And with the Boilermakers' first game scheduled for tonight against Detroit Mercy, it's time for our regularly scheduled Friday column.
MEET THE CHARACTERS
Every good story has its main characters, and we should begin ours by making sure everyone is up to speed on Purdue's roster. The Boilermakers return all five starters from last season's 25-9 team, although that doesn't mean they'll all start this time around.
Chris Kramer is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He's tough, gritty, and an average jump shooter. His job is to lock down the other team's best player. Purdue's team defense is all about getting pressure and steals in the half-court, and if Kramer can consistently stifle the other team's best offensive option, defense becomes that much easier for the Boilers.
Defense is Purdue's trademark, and Chris Kramer is their soul. Kramer was the team's only captain as a sophomore a year ago, and his effort and leadership will set the tone.
Going into last year, Robbie Hummel was actually the lesser-known of two Purdue freshmen from the same Valparaiso high school. That didn't last long. While longtime teammate Scott Martin battled injuries, homesickness, and other difficulties in his adjustment to college basketball, the "other" Valparaiso kid simply ended up an All-Big Ten first team selection...in his first year of college basketball.
Hummel is basically a 6'8" guard, but he's listed as a forward and ends up guarding the other team's 4-man by default. While his offensive numbers don't jump off the page (11.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 apg), his hustle and drive helped Purdue overachieve a year ago.
Of course, his league-best 44.7 percent mark behind the arc didn't hurt either.
Thanks to thousands and thousands of long-range jump shots during the summer, Keaton Grant came out of nowhere last season to become a dangerous perimeter gunner for Purdue. Despite being hobbled by two bad knees and noticeably limping as the season went along, Grant was voted the team's MVP in 2007-2008.
In the absence of a "true" point guard, KG took over a lot of the ballhandling duties and ended up guarding the other team's point as well. Grant will be a junior this year, and after offseason surgery, his numbers should reflect his improved health this winter.
E'Twaun Moore is a scorer. And a shooter. And a scorer. And a playmaker. And a scorer. Moore was the most heralded player in Purdue's recruiting class of now-sophomores, and he responded by becoming the first Boilermaker ever to lead his team in scoring as a true freshman last season (12.9 ppg).
During the team's trip to Australia this summer, Moore's numbers continued to skyrocket. The star guard averaged 27 points a contest during five exhibition games down under. (Note: The team was playing 48-minute games against professional teams, not the regulation 40, so that helped inflate the stats...a little.)
The only position we haven't addressed yet is center, and that's probably where the lineup change will come. Last year, JUCO transfer Nemanja Calasan got 18 starts in the middle for the Boilermakers, tallying 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds a contest.
Calasan figures to be supplanted in '08-'09 by JaJuan Johnson, a 6'10" freak athlete who appears to have spent enough time in the weight room over the last year and a half to finally make a difference in the physical Big Ten Conference.
Johnson was a great shot-blocker as a freshman, but anyone who saw him play would have described the post project as "raw." Look for unbelievable improvement this season from a player who Matt Painter has already predicted will be All-Big Ten before he leaves Purdue: "It's just a matter of when."
Other names you should know include Marcus Green, the senior who's been here for the entire Matt Painter era. Green provides depth off the bench and can occasionally post a 20-point game out of the blue (the Buckeyes found that out last year).
Lewis Jackson is a 5'9" speedster point guard that will get a chance to run the Boilermakers' offense for long stretches as a true freshman. We call him LewJack.
Speaking of another great freshman class, keep your eyes on Ryne Smith, shooter extraordinaire. Smith's job is to hit open threes. Gotta love simplicity.
ROUNDING OUT THE LINEUP
After what I think will be a nine-man rotation, the bottom of the lineup includes senior Chris Reid (a big man that could give minutes behind Calasan and Johnson if the Boilers run into foul trouble), hometown favorite Bobby Riddell (a senior from Lafayette, Indiana), and junior walk-on guard Mark Wohlford.
CALLING THE SHOTS
Matt Painter is in his fourth season at the helm, and after a 9-19 debut, he has guided back-to-back squads to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
His '06-'07 team featured seniors Carl Landry (currently with the Houston Rockets) and David Teague, and despite a standout recruiting class, no one expected the "Baby Boilers" to win an NCAA tournament game last year as well, especially after the graduation of Purdue's two best players.
Painter played for longtime Boilermaker coach Gene Keady (1990-1993) and succeeded Bruce Weber as the head man at Southern Illinois before moving to Purdue as Keady's designated successor. Painter was 25-5 at SIU in 2003-2004. He is assisted on the Purdue bench by Paul Lusk, Rick Ray, and Jack Owens.
WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING
- As mentioned above, Purdue went to Australia this summer for an exhibition tour and finished 2-3 against Aussie professional squads. The Boilers were without all of their incoming freshmen, as well as team MVP Keaton Grant (recovering from surgery).
- Coach Painter decided to redshirt freshman John Hart. With the backcourt depth that Purdue enjoys, Painter had expected to let either Hart or Smith wait a year to see action. Turns out that the Boilermakers can't imagine life without Ryne Smith's beautiful three-point jumpers, so Hart is the odd man out in 2008-09.
- Purdue announced that they will have tri-captains this season: junior Chris Kramer, junior Keaton Grant, and sophomore Robbie Hummel.
- The Boilermakers went 2-0 in November exhibitions against NCAA D-II powers Florida Southern and Northern State. In the first game, a 94-62 win, Purdue boasted balanced scoring, with five players finishing between 12-14 points. In the 82-62 victory against NSU, JaJuan Johnson had a monster game with 22 points and 14 boards.
WHAT'S ON TAP
Before next week's edition is published, Purdue will do battle with Detroit Mercy (tonight) and open the NIT Season Tip-Off with a pair of games (against Eastern Michigan and then either Georgia or Loyola-Chicago). All three games will be played in the friendly environment of 14,123-seat Mackey Arena, where Purdue is 32-2 the past two years.
Accept my apologies for lots of names and numbers in today's preview edition. When I offered the dare to Bleacher Report, I promised to find storylines and anecdotes that will interest all college hoops fans and sports fans in general. The problem is, we haven't exactly had a game yet.
Don't worry though, the action is coming! Hopefully now you know who everybody is...what to expect...and you can look for the next edition of COAPB on Nov. 21 to find out if the Boilermakers live up to their top 10 ranking in the season's first week.
See you at 3-0?
Carrying On About Purdue Basketball is a weekly column for all sports fans...not necessarily limited to college hoops junkies or the Boilermaker faithful. The goal is to write an in-depth story about the 2008-09 Purdue season, with a new chapter coming each week. COAPB will usually be published each Friday on BleacherReport.com. Contact the writer, Tim Cary, at firstname.lastname@example.org.