One of the joys I get from covering high school basketball on Friday nights is the ability to see Boilermakers before they become Boilermakers. This goes all the way back the 80's, when I saw Chad and Woody Austin on some pretty good Richmond teams against Kokomo. The list of recent Boilermakers I have seen before they got to Purdue is long: D.J. Byrd, Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Travis Carroll, Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman, Bobby Riddell, and others for sure.
Last Friday I was assigned to the Zionsville-Brownsburg game and it gave me a chance to see a pair of 2015 prospects that are Matt Painter's radar. One, Derrik Smits, I had seen several times before and will see again even tonight. Another, K.J. Walton, I had never seen.
It was a rough night for both for them. Neither team looked that great offensively as Brownsburg went on to win 42-39. In fact, both players were overshadowed by great games from teammates. Trevor Lucas had 19 points and seven rebounds for Brownsburg and the 6' point guard often outworked the 7'1" Smits for offensive rebounds. For Zionsville, Jake Mann connected on six three-pointers for 18 points.
Smits was seriously limited most of the night, as it was his first game back after a leg injury cost him much of the preseason. He scored the game's first basket on a nifty post move, but that would be his only basket as he finished with more travels (three) than points (two). Smits also struggled mightily on the glass and just seemed out of sync at times. Even now as a junior he is a player with a big body, but he is still learning the finishing touches of being over 7-feet tall. In that way he is a lot like his dad, Rik Smits, who played for the Pacers for over a decade.
Derrik is definitely a project with a lot of potential. Like his dad, he has some range on his shots and can hit free throws. He is bulkier this year, but still lacks the bulk you want out of a 7-footer. Since I will see him more over the course of the season I hope to see improvement. I think his injury really limited him and even coach Shaun Busick said he needs more on the glass form his big post player.
For Walton, he finished the night with just nine points as he had a very rough night shooting the basketball. I have heard he is a kid that can fill it up, but this was not one of his nights. He did have a very tough basket late in the game when he scored on a tough runner in the lane to give Brownsburg some breathing room as Zionsville threatened. This was after Zionsville cut it to 35-34 with just under two minutes left.
Though Walton had a rough night, he made up for is the next night with 28 points in a win at Pike. I really like that he is being coached by a defense-first coach that stresses good, hard-nosed defense. Brownsburg played a modified 2-3 zone and was int he face of Zionsville ballhandlers all night. That allowed Walton to cause a lot of havoc.
Walton is athletic, but he might be a tad undersized. He is listed as 6'3" 180 and is a Rivals top 150 player for 2015. ESPN has him as a four-star prospect and likely top 100 player. If I had to compare both guys to current Purdue players I would say Walton is like Terone Johnson while Smits is like a bigger Travis Carroll. Both are promising players that could compliment the program well.
Walton has official offers from Xavier and Illinois State, but Purdue, Butler, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan are giving him a look. I believe Brandon Brantley was the Purdue coach at this game looking at both guys.
Smits is ranked a little lower, but is still a three-star mostly because of two things: First, he is over 7-feet tall, and second, his dad was in the NBA for over a decade. Xavier, Clemson, and Butler have offered, but Purdue, Boston College, Notre Dame, and Indiana are looking. I think to play in the Big ten he needs to put on some serious weight. Rivals lists him at 6'10" 200 pounds (his sophomore size). I am 5'11" and currently weight 10 pounds less, so the dude is a stick right now. His dad was listed at 7'4" 250, so that is what we're looking at in potential size.
Walton might have more of a future with Purdue, especially with Isaac Haas signing. Smits' future depends on what A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson do. By the time Smits would arrive on campus Hammons would be a senior (and he is not going pro after this year now), Simpson would be a junior, and Haas a sophomore. Smits would give Purdue a 6'10" or taller player in every class and he would have plenty of big guys to bang with and learn from in practice.
I like both players though. I think they're definitely worth further attention.