As promised, I do have a basketball entry in me for this week. I figured we could use some good news since we're about to get crushed by Ohio State at home. Just remember, as you hear the Buckeye fans chant O-H-I-O in our own stadium as they did two years ago: basketball practice started the day before and the first exhibition game is a few weeks away on November 3rd.
The last two seasons have been defined by the impact that newcomers have had on the program. Two years ago it was the impact of Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson as freshmen. Last year the newcomers had a lesser impact, but true freshman Lewis Jackson gave us a much needed presence at the point guard position. This year we have an astounding nine players that will be making their first on the court contributions to the program. This includes four walk-ons that were good enough to grab a scholarship elsewhere, but chose to come to Purdue and walk-on. Here is what we can expect from everyone:
Instant Impact guys:
D.J. Byrd - 6'5" 214 lbs - N. Montgomery HS (Crawfordsville, IN) - Byrd is the type of player that will get better at Purdue because he will not be expected to carry the load. That has been his role at North Montgomery since I first saw him play as a freshman four years ago. Over time, I ended up seeing him play in three tournament games. Each time I saw him play he exhibited the grit and toughness we have come to expect from Purdue basketball players. I kind of look at him as a bigger, more offensively talented version of Chris Kramer. injuries could be an issue though, as he battled injuries his entire high school career.
This past season he showed he had matured as well. I covered his sectional championship game and I was impressed for many reasons. First, he was playing his first game after tearing a meniscus in his knee a few weeks earlier. He did not have his full spring or first step he normally had, but he was content to do the dirty work of rebounding and defending while his teammates did the rest. He had 12 points in the game, and all 12 came during a nine minute stretch in the middle of the game when his team needed him to dominate.
Best of all, he is a kid that never had a question that he was going to play for Purdue if he was good enough. He committed early and never wavered even as his stock rose. I can see him helping off the bench at the small forward position and giving us another "dirty work" type of player that can produce unexpected offense. He doesn't have the 3-point range of a Keaton Grant or E'Twaun Moore, but his has an excellent mid-range jumper. He is a solid rebounder as well.
Sandi Marcius - 6'9" 261 lbs - LaLumiere School (LaPorte, IN) - Losing a player like Nemanja Calasan puts a lot of pressure on JaJuan Johnson as our only true post player, but Marcius may be an upgrade in terms of rebounding and second chance points. Honestly, that is all we need from him when he is in there. We need him to clog the lane defensively, get rebounds, and get putbacks on the offensive end.
He is a tad unique from the rest of the newcomers in that he is already used to a campus setting. He has been here for a few years from his native Croatia, as LaLumiere is a private boarding school in LaPorte. As he matures, I really hope JaJuan stays for his senior season. That would give us an amazingly big front line of Johnson, Marcius, Travis Carroll, Patrick Bade, and Donne Hale for the 2010-11 season.
Kelsey Barlow - 6'5" 199 lbs - Cathedral (Indianapolis, IN) - With Barlow we get a big, bruising guard that can bang inside and distribute the ball. He will not be a starter right away, but he will be a good complimentary player to Lewis Jackson. If we use him as a point guard it will force teams to shift their defensive strategy from Jackson's quickness to Barlow's strength and size. Since the game of basketball is all about creating matchup issues it is a good idea to have as many versatile players as possible to cause those problems. That is where Barlow comes in. He can play both guard positions as well as the small forward position like Byrd. We can bring him along slowly too as a little things guy to replace Marcus Green.
Patrick Bade - 6'8" 235 lbs - Franklin Central HS (Indianapolis, IN) - JaJuan is reunited with his former understudy as Bade joins the Boilers. Bade is kind of a poor man's version of Robbie Hummel. He plays the same position, but is probably more of a banger and rebounder than Robbie. He doesn't have the range on his jump shot, but he can come in and provide a few minutes of rebounding relief for JaJuan.
To me, that is how we will make the leap from good to fantastic. It will depend on how much heat we can take off of JaJuan Johnson. We have plenty of shooters. We will keep playing solid defense, but we have to provide more of an inside presence so teams do not key on JaJuan as our only big threat. Bade and Marcius are the critical elements there. We don't need them to be fantastic, but we do need them to contribute from the beginning.
John Hart - 6'2" 195 lbs - Beech Grove HS (Beech Grove, IN) - Hart is a bit of a wild card because he is a newcomer, but he was already on campus redshirting last season. He was first-team all state and the Marion County Player of the Year in 2008, so the guy clearly knows how to play. The man can shoot, can score, and has had an entire year to acclimate himself to the system. I think he could be a major surprise for us, but I don't really see where he can fit in. Who does he take minutes from when E'Twaun, Keaton, and Kramer play his position? Also, Ryne Smith is supposed to have improved greatly in a similar position.
Dru Anthrop - 6' 176 lbs - Central Catholic HS (Lafayette, IN) - If there is a walk on that will earn significant playing time this year my money is on Anthrop. He is a gamer and a winner. Last season he helped Central Catholic to a 20-7 season that ended with a semi-state loss. Along the way he helped beat Kelsey Barlow's Cathedral team, Patrick Bade's Franklin Central, D.J. Byrd's North Montgomery, and he twice lost to Stevie Loveless' Frankfort team. I saw him once against Zionsville and he is the real deal. He also state Mental Attitude Award in helping Central Catholic win the Class A baseball state title.
This is a kid that simply knows how to win, and that overcomes any physical shortcomings he may have. He has the best potential to be our new Bobby Buckets because he is better than Bobby. I see no reason why he can't fill Bobby's same role.
Kyle Coleman - 6'4" 197 lbs - Tipton HS (Tipton, IN) - This was a very interesting pickup. I have covered quite a few Tipton games over the past few seasons and Derek Elston (who is now at Indiana) was a major focus on that team. A major reason Elston was able to do the things he did was because of Kyle Coleman though. Very few teams at the 2A level in Indiana have the advantage of a 6'7" guy like Elston. Tipton was even better because Coleman could play inside and do the dirty work near the basket that let Elston play outside. That made Elston a dangerous mismatch against almost every team because he did not have to limit himself to the paint. Coleman will be undersized for his position in the Big Ten, but he is going to be a solid practice player that makes everyone else better.
Stevie Loveless - 6'5" 196 lbs - Frankfort HS (Frankfort, IN) - It has been a few years since I saw Loveless play, but I can definitely see him as a Kyle Coleman type in practice. Like Anthrop, he had offers at some smaller D-I schools but he chose to stay close to home and walk on at Purdue. At 6'5" he has good range on his jump shot, so he could develop into a regular contributor with time. Fortunately, we don't have to rely on him right out of the gate. We can be patient with him and let him develop. He saw action last year against Anthrop, Byrd, and Coleman as well, so there should be some chemistry there.
Bubba Day - 6' 179 lbs. - West Lafayette HS (West Lafayette, IN) - Our final player is a bit of a mystery, but he comes in as a sophomore walk-on. He is another Bobby Buckets type for more reasons than being a townie. He is a solid 3-point shooter who could eventually evolve into a specialist at that position. He has to be doing something right to make the team after sitting out for a year. Personally, I will take any player that can flat out shoot the basketball. You can never have enough of those guys on your team, and that is what Day can do.
Every single player played high school basketball in the state of Indiana. They know what it is like to play in front of passionate fans and big crowds. If you don't think that, you have never seen a team like Central Catholic play on the road.
These kids are winners too. They have played for programs that have won a bunch of basketball games in recent years. Bade was integral in taking down Lawrence North in the regional last season. Lawrence North was absolutely loaded with Division I talent, yet Bade took them down. Cathedral won at least 20 games each of the last three seasons with Barlow, but could never get past powerful programs like Lawrence North and North Central in the sectional.
We lost four very good players in Marcus Green, Chris Reid, Bobby Riddell, and Nemanja Calasan. We replaced them twofold, however. Loveless and Coleman are the practice guys that will fill in for Reid. Marcius and Bade replace Calasan. Byrd and Barlow replace Green. Day and Anthrop replace Bobby Buckets. How can we not get better in that way, especially when most of them are better players than the ones they are replacing?