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Purdue Basketball: From Biggie to Boogie

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For the second year Purdue has a finalist for national player of the year/All-American testing the NBA waters. Will the story be the same?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Purdue vs Texas Tech Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the second time I’ve asked Joey Burton about Carsen Edward’s draft stock. The first time was last summer, when I called to ask about what he’d been working on with Carsen to help turn the potential of the sophomore into the reality.

Burton has had his hands on some of the more incredible journeys of player improvement in college basketball in the last handful of years. A list that includes Glenn Robinson III, Kelan Martin, and an embarrassingly rich list of Boilermakers - Rapheal Davis, Jon Octeus, Dakota Mathias, and Carsen Edwards.

He’s not done with the Boilers either, but that’s a story for another time.

There’s a common trend. Rapheal Davis turned himself into one of the best two-way players in the B10, Dakota Mathias became one of the best two-way players in the country on top of being one of the best shooters, and Carsen Edwards’ went from frustrating freshman to finalist for National Player of the Year and All-American.

The kid is just a sophomore, and his ceiling is higher than maybe anyone Joey’s coached, and as he told me nearly a year ago, the NBA is more forgiving of smaller guards than ever before.

So sophomore All-American, first-team B10 combo guard, and Purdue’s leading scorer this year will enter his name into the NBA draft and test the waters without hiring an agent.

As I’m pulled over at a rest station somewhere between West Lafayette and Boston, Joey is telling me - Carsen headed to the NBA combine was still hypothetical at this point - that he’d advise Carsen to prepare for the combine and team workouts like he was absolutely leaving. It’s your only chance to make a first impression, he tells me, and if you go in there just wanting to get your name out, you’re going to do yourself a disservice.

As a Purdue fan very high on next year’s younger but more athletic team, this makes me pause. What if Carsen impresses someone and he likes what he hears?

It’s possible. Carsen’s on-court play this year was breathtaking, taking major jumps in every category while scoring more efficiently and getting to the line more. He got better as the year went along, and finished on one of the biggest stages in sports, scoring 30 points on 20 shots, knocking down 4 of his 9 three-pointers and making all four of his free throw attempts while only turning the ball over once.

It was a perfect microcosm of his entire season. Edwards limited the costly mistakes that littered his freshman year while playing more, doing more, scoring more, and missing less. His 3-point attempts a game jumped from 4.1 a game his freshman year to 6.4 his sophomore, while making .406% of them compared to just 34% last year. He more than doubled his attempts at the line, while raising his free throw % from .743 to .824. In just 23 minutes a game last year, Carsen scored just over 10 points, this year he averaged 18.5 in 29 minutes.

Advanced metrics point to a player that not only got more accustomed to the speed and size of college basketball, but someone who made leaps in his basketball IQ. His turnover rate dropped dramatically from 18% as a freshman to 12 % as a sophomore, the 202nd best rate in the nation, while also having an assist rate of 19.6%, up more than 5% from his freshman campaign.

The work Carsen has put in during the off-season and during the season has been remarkable. I try to get Joey to tell me where he’s impressed him the most because that makes an easier headline, and for a second I think he’s going to give it to me.

“We talked about it last night. Isn’t it a world of difference? When I first started working with him, we looked at the NCAA tournament games… I’m telling you he was just jacking and you were like ‘Why?’ He was driving in and it’s like a seven footer down there. Like really Carsen, you’re going to finish through this guy, over this guy? What’s going on here? And you know his ability now to make the right decisions. To be able to be under control more, his pace, his efficiency. You know another thing was his shooting improved obviously. One of the things is he’s become more disciplined on his shot where he used to, and I’ve got video proof of this, he just used to just fling the ball up there. I don’t even know if the ball left his hand and he was already pulling his hand back and he was fading on stuff…Now you can see him even holding his follow through. You can see him landing on balance. There’s all these little details that when I studied him and watched him, that you know this guy could – he just has to discipline himself in some of these details. And you know it’s the old adage right it’s little details that make big differences.”

It’s made a big difference, and it’s hard to blame Joey the paragraph. Not only is Carsen his guy, but he’s also made incredible strides everywhere in his game.

And the scouts will surely take note of that. Just like they will Edwards frame, which is on the short side. He’s barely above six foot, but he did have a 6’5” wing span when he measured at the U19 tryouts, an encouraging sign for someone who has shown real promise on the defensive end of the floor. There’s not many people as low to the ground and strong as Carsen, capable of sticking on different guards on the perimeter though he’s prone to gambling and getting blown by going for the steal.

But there were a couple times where Texas Tech’s guards were able to bully him down low and finish easily at the rim. That will be a concern going forward.

There’s not much buzz on Draftexpress or any draft outlet on Carsen yet, those come out a little later into the process, but the NBA is thirstier than ever for guards who can shoot and create their own shot.

Purdue lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA after his sophomore year, and Biggie’s transition to a quality NBA big man has not led to much in the way of playing time his rookie. Carsen does not enter the combine with the same kind of pedigree as Swanigan did with a five-star ranking out of high-school and headlines from day one, but perhaps as a shot-creating sharp-shooter he’s got an easier path to playing time.

But probably not this summer. Gulp. Boiler fans hope.