I had my reservations about going to media day today. I wasn't sure how I, as a rogue blogger, would fit in with the old hat media guys. As it turns out, I fit in just fine, thank you. I don't think the mainstream media still takes me seriously, but some guys from Yahoo and Grand Rapids that I met liked my candor. I thought outside the box and asked questions that I wanted answered, not what everyone else wanted. As it turns out, the coaches like that.
One of the great things about the Big Ten is that the coaches have great personalities. One thing I learned today is that they really open up when you ask a unique question. For example: A lot of people were asking Thad Matta the usual stuff about how his new freshmen were fitting in and his thoughts on the July evaluation period. I am sure some old school media thought this was "unprofessional", but I took a different approach with the following question to end his session:
"It seemed like you guys were very successful last year when you were very loose. And one of the guys that kept everybody loose was, of course, blogger extraordinaire Mark Titus. How are you keeping that attitude coming out of the season, especially with all the competition you're facing?"
First of all, he got the biggest smile of any coach on the dias during the day. Second, you could tell he loved opening up and being able to say something more than the canned answers that come from media day. Here was his response:
"I think that may be the greatest question I've ever been asked. Everybody's been asking me how do you replace Evan Turner. I'm not concerned about replacing Evan; I'm concerned about replacing Mark Titus. No, I think that Mark is very unique. He's still in Columbus.
I never read the blog. But I always tell our players to use this opportunity at Ohio State to help yourself be successful for the rest of your life. And I really believe this, I think Mark did that.
But he still ‑‑ he was in the gym the other day watching practice. And it's always good for me to see him, because he makes me laugh like nobody I've ever met before." - Thad Matta
You see, these guys are people too. They've been peppered dozens of times with the same questions and they're challenged to come up with 27 different ways to say the same thing. Since this is a blog, I know you can get all that stuff somewhere else. I want to give you something unique. That keeps you coming here.
For the record, Matta spotted me in the hallway later on, said hi, and told me once again that was a great question. I'm telling you, these coaches are characters. Especially Bo Ryan, who was griping about the Phillies losing the NLCS as he sat down for individual interviews.
Of course, I went to Chicago to get information on our Boilers, and I found out one thing: These guys are going to be tired of being asked about Robbie Hummel. In fact, if they aren't tired of it already I would be shocked. I steered clear of that. When Painter had his ten minutes on the dias I asked about the integration of freshmen Travis Carroll, Anthony Johnson, and Terone Johnson into the offense. Here was his response:
"They've done a good job. They've worked very hard. Travis Carroll has lost 20 pounds. So staying up with the game is very, very important. I always say: If you're not in shape to play major college basketball, you're not improving; you're surviving. And you have to be in shape so you can make improvements. He's got himself in shape. And he's learning on the fly. You're throwing a lot at guys early on. Anthony Johnson is a guy I compared to David Teague. He can make baskets and he can rebound his position. He's got some athleticism. He can move laterally.
So to me that's very important. That means he can defend when you can move laterally and you have athleticism. So just trying to get him to learn our system and compete every single day, which he has.
And then Terone Johnson gives us a guy with a big strong body that can make plays, break people down, can score the ball, and can defend. And I think he's got a chance to be very successful at Purdue.
But I'll get excited when they do something, when the popcorn's turning. They're freshmen. And right now we're just trying to get their feet wet a little bit, get some experience, learn our system, and keep ‑‑ try to keep them playing at a high level. But there's obviously going to be some competition." - Matt Painter
This is a major step because these guys will be in support roles this year, but will soon be in much bigger roles to move the program forward.
My favorite moment of the day was talking to E'Twaun Moore during the individual interviews. As a nod to you the readers, I told him about how we call him the Red Button and asked him what he felt about it, Here is what he had to say, specifically in reference to his triple Red Button sequence at Michgian State:
"That was huge (at Michigan State). That was a big bucket," said Moore with a laugh when told he was The Red Button. "I guess the red button got pushed that time. That's one of my roles. Everytime we need a big bucket I am looking to either score or make the right pass. I just like playing under pressure." - E'Twaun Moore
Best of all, E'Twaun laughed about it. It was the only time he laughed during the entire interview process, probably because he wasn't being asked about Robbie. He welcomes being the Red Button, and no he knows we appreciate him for it. I even told him how we tell the TV, "E'Twaun, I need you to hit the Red Button.
Painter had some other good quotes on the day as well, and most of the coaches were very complimentary of the program. Tom Crean in particular had good things to say,
"When you look at the quality of the teams, when you look at the quality of the coaching, and it's obvious with some of the programs right now when you look at where Michigan State's at, when you look at Ohio State, when you look at Purdue, even without Robbie (Hummel), I think that's an incredible team, because, number one, the guy running the program knows everything that it takes to win, and they've got a lot of quality players inside of it." - Tom Crean
Painter seemed most impressed with Patrick Bade and the progress he has made. In the individual interviews he stated that Bade would be a 4 on the floor for defensive purposes and JJ would be a five, but when Marcius and Carroll were in the game JJ could move out to be a four.
"Sandi has had a good week of practice. He sprained his ankle and was out for about a month. He's done a good job. He's done a very good job. I've been pleasantly surprised in his production in practice.
He's done a good job rebounding, a good job adapting. We haven't had a horse like that, the 6'10", 260‑pound guys. Sometimes how we flow offensively, he breaks us down a little bit. So we've got to adjust to him more than anything and give him some rules to help him feel comfortable in our offense. And then defensively, as long as he can kind of plug that middle and allow JaJuan to step out a little bit or replace JaJuan and give him a spell, it gives us that true post.
He does not have a high level of experience of playing, though. He's not a guy that's been playing organized basketball since he was five years old. And that concerns me. And we just ‑‑ we need to get him in there.
That's what's been so important for him last year, if he wouldn't have broke his foot, kind of getting in there, getting a little bit of experience and getting himself ready for this season.
But I've been pleasantly surprised with him coming off that injury, being that productive. Not because he's been productive, but just it's hard when you sit out a month when you haven't played and you're a new guy." - Matt Painter
Finally, the biggest things he talked about were replacing Robbie and Chris Kramer:
"We won't change anything, obviously, defensively. We'll do a lot of the same things defensively. You know, he's a point forward. He's a guy that you can use as a facilitator.
He's a skilled guy. He can drive the basketball. He can do a lot of different things. We'd obviously like to have a replica of Rob Hummel to sub in there. It doesn't work quite that way.
So we're trying ‑‑ your question there is kind of my question. And I want them to give me the answer to that, just to say I can talk about each guy that possibly could plug into that equation and to have options. But I really don't have that answer.
The guy that has stepped up in my opinion to this point is Patrick Bade. He's lost a lot of weight and he's in better shape and he's been very productive. He's done a very good job of rebounding for us so far in practice. That's something that he was not consistent with last year in practices.
And I don't really gauge guys on games when they play five to ten minutes. It's not fair. But I do gauge them two and a half hours every day. And he's done a very good job in practice of rebounding the basketball.
But I think we have to do a better job. We've gotten beat at the end of the year the past two years in the Sweet 16, and just gotten crushed on the glass by UConn and then this year by Duke. And we have to do a better job rebounding.
So I think those young bigs, if they can run, rebound, defend and play off of JaJuan, I think we can have some success with that." - Matt Painter
When asked about Kramer:
"That's a very good question. I had somebody ask in our Media Day who is going to be your Chris Kramer? And I was like the Riddler, asked them the question: Well, who was the second Chris Kramer last year in college basketball? Who was that other guy that you would say is like Chris Kramer in college basketball, period? And they said, Well, nobody really comes to mind. And I said, Yeah, because there's not very many of them.
He literally took guys out of their game. And the guys he really struggled against were pros. And those are the guys that would get him. He struggled against a guy like an Evan Turner. But the other guys, Chris, he would knock them out of what they wanted to do and really frustrate them.
I think that's by committee. I don't think we have a guy. I think Terone Johnson could be a very good defender down the road. I think Anthony Johnson could be a good defender down the road.
They're just freshmen and just kind of learning our defensive system. E'Twaun Moore has made a lot of strides. Can he carry the load and be a scorer and be a shut‑down guy like a Kenny Lowe or a Cuonzo Martin in the past for Purdue, those guys have been able to do it? I think he can. I really think he can.
I know we'll have good pressure on the ball with Lewis and Kelsey. It could end up being if we can't get to that with other guys, with a guy like John Hart or Ryne Smith, can't be a defensive presence for us, we can move Kelsey over because I know he has the athleticism and ability to do it. We've just kept him at the point so far in his career." - Matt Painter
So there you have it. Painter knows the answers cannot be made by him. They have to come from the guys on the floor and he is confident they will come. Now all that is left to do is start playing.
For the record, I think we're going to be fine.