The summer overseas trip in the world of college basketball is rare, but it can be a time where players who have been in the system a few years can really emerge in a larger role. This year Purdue had the added bonus of adding several new freshmen, giving them a chance to play with the returning veterans in a competitive setting before the season even began. That didn't happen with the baby Boilers on the last trip to Australia, but the rule changes allowed Jay Simpson (who did not play due to injury) Rapheal Davis, Ronnie Johnson, and A.J. Hammons to come on board and mesh with the returning pieces.
The result was a 3-1 trip where Purdue won a trio of blowouts and dropped a close game with Atletas Kaunas. Here were the final results:
All-Star Italy W 80-38
Atletas Kaunas L 79-82
Vicenza All-Star W 105-69
Amici del Campetto W 108-72
Overall it seems like it was a good trip. There were naturally some weaknesses to Purdue's game, but it seems like the defense was mostly there in some games where the offense was more than wide-open. There were some very good things we can take from this trip:
Raphael Davis - The freshman has a nose to be a scorer and to get to the basket. To me, he can be a little like E`Twaun in that regard, only he doesn't have Smooge's reliability from three-point land yet. One of my fears is that offense will be a problem this year, but Davis looks like he can get to the basket and create his own shot. He's not afraid to attack. Last season we lacked that attacking ability, but this year we need it out of necessity. Does that translate into a starting role to begin the year? We'll see.
Davis was the team's leading scorer with 57 points in four games, averaging out to 14.25 per game. He was also close to five rebounds per game and shot 56%.
Sandi Marcius - First off, it was great that the big man got to play in front of his family. I think we take for granted that most of the guys get to do that with the majority of the roster being from Indiana. The Chooch's family is still in Croatia though. It's not an easy commute to West Lafayette.
Chooch continued his solid play from the alumni game with a double-double in the final game of 11 points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes of action. He averaged 10.5 rebounds per game over four games, 0.5 blocks, was generally the immovable object we need him to be on the low block. I was impressed by Sandi before the Italy trip and remember, he plays some solid basketball in both NCAA Tournament game. I think he takes a big step forward this year, especially as an aggressive rebounder.
Donnie Hale - The redshirt-freshman-who-should-be-a-junior started to look like the two-year wait was worth it. He averaged 11.75 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and could definitely play the three or the four for us. Having him available at the three could be a major asset if we choose to go big with Hammons and Chooch down low. Hale had a double-double in the opener with 11 and 11.
Hale shot 57% from the floor, which was buoyed by offensive rebounds and putbacks. Sure, you can't always count on them, but offensive rebounds come from being aggressive and the baskets they create are worth the exact same amount as a swished 15 foot jumper. We've lacked the aggressiveness on the offensive glass that can switch a game for some time. Maybe we get it back with Hale and Chooch getting these "garbage baskets".
Jacob Lawson - Again, garbage baskets count the same on the scoreboard. The Law had a 73% field goal percentage, which tells me he's getting looks within five feet. That doesn't happen without attacking the rim.
Ronnie Johnson - RJ proved he is going to start from day one by averaging five assists per game, something that even LewJack didn't do last year. That came with only six turnovers, which I can live with. We'll need to see how his defense on opposing point guards is.
Dru Anthrop - I think Anthrop plays a larger role than people expect this year. His Italy numbers suggest that he can be a serviceable backup point guard a few minutes per night, allowing TJ and AJ to stay at their more natural position of the two. Anthrop led the team in steals (11), was second in assists (12), and had only three turnovers. He was getting 17 minutes per game. As a senior walk-on that will likely be in his second year on scholarship and fourth year on the team overall I don't see why we can't play him a few minutes. He's earned it.
A.J. Hammons - The offensive game may not be there yet, but his massive presence on the defensive end can erase a lot of mistakes. Even with JJ patrolling the paint he was often drawn away from the basket. I don't think we'll have that with Hammons because we actually have other bigs we can play on the floor at the same time. Hammons finished the trip at just under 7.5 rebounds per game and 0.75 blocks.
The good news from citing these players is that the known quantities of D.J. Byrd, Anthony Johnson, and Terone Johnson took a bit of a back seat. Byrd averaged 10 points per game while TJ was at 9.75 and AJ 9. They were also third through fifth in assists. I think it shows this team is not going to have two big scorers like JJ and E'Twaun, but relatively even contributions from 8-10 guys. I kind of like that because opposing teams know they can't stop just one guy and shut us down. The question of who gets the ball in crunch time is there, but over the course of the game I like having four or five guys on the floor as a threat to score as opposed to just two.
What needs work:
Free Throw shooting - You knew this was coming. It was atrocious at the alumni game and was better, but not great in Italy. The team was about 66%. Travis Carroll was the leader at 88%, but guys like Anthony Johnson (29%? Really? You're a guard!), the Chooch (50%) and Lawson (57%) concern me. We're a bigger team this year, so we're going to be a tougher team. We're going to get our points close to the basket by out-toughing teams, and that often means contact and trips to the line. If we don't cash in on said trips we're in trouble. Having JJ be the team's best free throw shooter and getting hacked a lot was a major bonus.
Three-point shooting - I fear that in this area was have D.J. as a reliable option and that's it. I think AJ has the potential to develop here but he needs to commit to being a jump shooter. DJ and AJ were the only two players above 25% from long range for the trip. Kendall Stephens is still a year away, so someone has to be able to knock down the open three. With Hammons' ability to pass out of the block it will be there too. Now is the time to tell me that Ryne Smith really redshirted as a freshman.
T-Mill's projected lineup and depth chart
I know it is really early, but I can tell this is going to be a different type of Purdue team. Last year we often lived and died from the three. Well, we can't do that anymore. Most of our offense is going to come much closer to the basket by either relying on the bigs or having guys like Davis slash to the rim. I am fine with that, but the free throw shooting must improve as a result because we're going to get to the line a lot with that approach. At least it gets opponents in foul trouble.
Rebounding, especially on the offensive end, needs to be a strength. In that, I think you'll see a lot more of Hammons, Chooch, Hale, and Lawson. With Byrd being the only reliable three-point option we don't have a choice but to go away from the three. Fortunately, I still think this is a 20-win team even with the change. Here is what I see, at least for the first game:
PG - Ronnie Johnson
SG - Terone Johnson
SF - D.J. Byrd
PF - Sandi Marcius
C - A.J. Hammons
Anthony Johnson, Raphael Davis, Donnie Hale, Dru Anthrop (point guard need)
Jacob Lawson, Travis Carroll, Jay Simpson (I don't see him redshirting because we're already down two scholarship guys)
Neal Beshears, Stephen Toyra