|The new-look Boilers will be among the more unpredictable, interesting major-conference teams. (Purdue Athletics)|
In our Trippin' series, we're talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Check here for all Trippin'-related stories.
I thought Matt Painter's Purdue program would shut its doors with our Robbie Hummel, but the Boilermakers are alive and well -- despite being plenty young.
In all seriousness, it's a new era in Purdue basketball -- one that no longer includes Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, JaJauan Johnson and even Lewis Jackson.
Painter got a look at his young group over in Italy and liked what he saw.
"Our young guys played well," he said.
What Painter learned: "With our group, nothing is going to be easy since we are young. But we can't also be immature. Ronnie Johnson, Donnie Hale, A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis -- all four of our freshmen -- did well for us over there. I was pleased overall with how we played."
Who stood out: "There were a few guys. Rapheal led us in scoring, Donnie Hale played well and Sandi Marcius rebounded the ball extremely well. Ronnie Johnson played well, even though he didn't shoot it."
Biggest concern: "Inexperience and our ability to be good defensively. We've got a long way to go. We're going to have to be good together."
-- There's just a single senior on the team: forward D.J. Byrd, who is expected to see most of his time at small forward this year. Byrd averaged 8.9 points last season while coming off the bench in all but six games. Purdue lost three of its top four scorers -- Hummel (16.4), Jackson (10.4) and Ryne Smith (9.1).
-- It's nearly a lock that freshman Ronnie Johnson will be thrown into the fire and get most of the minutes at the point. It could be a sibling starting backcourt with Ronnie and Terone Johnson, now a junior. "Ronnie is our only true point guard," Painter said. "He makes good decisions and is the quintessential point guard. He sees things, passes it, changes directions and has a great feel for the game."
-- Painter is also high on young freshman 7-footer A.J. Hammons. "He's going to be a really good player," Painter said. "He scores better than I thought. He's not polished in the post, but he can score with his back to the basket. He finishes, blocks shots and is intelligent." The key for Hammons, as much as anything else, may be his conditioning. He's down to 270 pounds and could be exactly what the Boilermakers lack a year ago.
-- Rapheal Davis, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Ft. Wayne, Ind., led the team in scoring. He had 15 points in the first game, 23 in the third and 16 points and nine boards in the finale.
-- The lone player who didn't participate on the trip is 6-foot-9 freshman Jay Simpson, who still needs to get in better shape following a foot injury.
-- Don't be surprised to see a starting frontline of Byrd at the small forward spot, freshman Donnie Hale at power forward and Marcius in the middle. "Sandi was our best rebounder and has become a more confident player," Painter said. "We've got to remember that this isn't a kid who grew up like other Croatians. "He grew up in a small village and didn't have the same backgrounds as a lot of the other guys from Croatia." Hale had a pair of double-doubles on the trip and also had 19 points in the second game of the trip.
-- A year ago, Painter's group led the country in fewest turnovers. Hummel, Jackson and Ryne Smith all helped in that regard -- and so did the fact that the ball rarely went down low. "We've got to be able to take care of the ball this year," Painter said. "We should be a better rebounding team. We had 28 offensive rebounds in back-to-back games."
-- Painter said the biggest difference without Hummel comes on the offensive end. "He just knows how to play, can stretch the defense and moves the ball," Painter said. "He has a natural gift to make the offense flow. On defense, he had so much experience that when mistakes were made he knew exactly what to do to adjust." As far as playing without Hummel, the positive is that Painter has done it before -- as Hummel was hurt with a back injury and then missed significant time rehabbing from a pair of torn ACLs.
-- Ryne Smith is a student assistant coach after graduating last season. Lewis Jackson is playing in Lithuania and Hummel, who was drafted late in the second round by Minnesota, signed with a team in northern Spain.