The future of Purdue’s backcourt was on display tonight.
It is only 6 miles from my house in Indianapolis to Manual High School. On a good day I could walk it, if motivated. Tonight, the stars aligned and two Purdue signees in the 2019 basketball recruiting class were meeting there. I have seen Isaiah Thompson dozens of times the last four years because I regularly cover Zionsville for my side job. His Eagles were playing Valparaiso, with signee Brandon Newman in the all day Manual Extravaganza. It was a nine game, 18-team affair starting at 9:30am and going all day.
You know I had to go.
Truth be told, it was a sloppy game. The teams had a combined 30 turnovers in 32 minutes of action. Brandon Newman really struggled with his shot all night, going 7 of 25 from the floor as Zionsville hassled him into an off night. Isaiah did not have the best night from the floor either, going 5 of 11, but it was his ability to get to the line and a consistent teammate that made the difference in a 64-54 win for his team.
First, let’s take a look at Newman, as this is the first time I saw him. In short, the kid is a physical specimen. I walked past him as the previous game as ending and he is ever bit of his listed 6’5” in the program. Once he got on the floor his athleticism shined. He finished the night with 22 points, but with a couple of friendly rolls and a little more luck he could have had 40 tonight. The kid is a scorer in the purest sense. He was unafraid to try and score in pretty much ever way. He finished 2 of 9 from three, but one of his made threes was a very smooth 23-footer where he came off a screen, caught a pass, and buried the shot in a big moment. Valparaiso was trailing 53-47 with 1:45 left and he canned the three in a big spot like it was nothing.
The jumper, at least in that moment, was smooth. He struggled to finish at the basket and in the midrange because of Zionsville’s 2-3 zone, but he showed no fear at all in attacking. I have to give him credit for his confidence. He was having a bad night, but he never stopped attacking. There were at least 6 times where he got to the basket and had to adjust in mid-air only to have the ball roll off the rim and backboard.
It was more than just getting to the rim with his athleticism. He can be explosive with it, too. I had him for nine rebounds and the majority of them were of the “I am more athletic, so I want this ball right now” variety. He also bricked a pair of dunks where he attacked the rim with ferocity. It was almost like the rim had insulted his family and the hapless Zionsville player in front of him was playing the role of extra in his highlight film. Had he landed the dunk it would have vaporized the poor kid’s soul. Even though he missed both dunks, on both attempts he went out of his way to violently dunk on someone. He can elevate like he is based on springs, and that is a good thing.
Overall, I think we’re really going to like him. Even though he was 7 of 25, he played strong defense, had an astounding block where he came from a different zip code to swat a shot. If I had to describe him as a current player I would say he is Eric Hunter in Nojel Eastern’s body.
We’re gonna like him.
Then you have Isaiah. I see Isaiah pretty much every week and my description of him would be: a poor man’s Carsen Edwards. He is smaller than Carsen, but he attacks the basket and has range from 25 feet or more. Isaiah is more of a scorer than his brother was, but not quite the distributor. That is an aspect of his game that he needs to work on. Even his coach, Shaun Busick, said that tonight:
“I think he needs to start doing a little more in terms of ‘the other stuff’. We know he can score. He didn’t have his best shooting night because he was 2 of 7 from three and he is going to be 40%+ from there. For him, to take our team to the next level, it has to start on the defensive end and that communication. We even said it in our team meeting today that he has to be a better leader.”
And that is what I see the most needed from Isaiah next year. I am going to go way back in my comparison here, but he needs to be a bit like Austin Parkinson. Austin was a great scorer in high school, but needed to be a distributor at Purdue. Isaiah needs to get the best of both distributing and scoring.
I saw flashes of it tonight. He had a handful of assists that were pretty impressive. Nathan Childress, his teammate that will play at Bethel College next year, also had 20 points, but much of that was off of passes from Isaiah.
Overall, it was a fascinating night to see. Zionsville runs a 2-3 zone defensively that was taught by legendary Indiana HS coach Basil Mawbey. Basil is basically the Jim Boehiem of Indiana HS basketball and in his retirement he has worked with Zionsville to perfect their zone. That can neutralize a guy like Newman. It was kind of like a chess match. Newman attacked it fearlessly, but something happened at the basket every time to stop him from scoring, it seemed.
That’s good for both sides. Both Newman and Thompson are not afraid to attack the basket, but it will be tougher at the next level. They have a ton of promise though. Newman is the big athletic guard that can shoot (and hit free throws, because he was 6 of 6) we have been looking for. Isaiah needs to be his brother with more scoring instincts. They could be quite the fun backcourt together.