I remember asking my older buddy, an Indiana high school referee longer than I’ve been alive, about Sasha Stefanovich at the gym after the Crown Point native accepted his scholarship offer from Coach Painter.
I was a little shocked.
“A quicker Dakota.”
I think I audibly said huh. I was confused, looked disbelieving, and he smiled a little bit. He meant it.
Fast forward a redshirt season and Stefanovich will step into an ideal situation. Nojel Eastern seems to have the starting point guard position in a firm hold after a strong finish to his freshman campaign, but he’s a guard that at this point has no jump shot at all and the back up spot is wide open. Coach Painter was able to find a two-year transfer in Budreaux for the post, and he seemed to be looking for another potential transfer, but you have to think that part of why he didn’t land anyone in his backcourt is that he’s confident that Stefanovich will be game ready from game 1.
And from what brief glimpses we saw in Taipei during the World University Games, that might be a good bet. He looked ready then and that was before a year of coaching and getting familiar with Coach Painter’s system and a collegiate weight room. He was surprisingly quick with the ball, made good decisions, and held his own defensively.
And look, we all know that’s the question that will matter most. While Painter’s grown more and more patient with young players on one end of the floor, it’s still very clear what he values from his guards. They have to guard.
So that’s the question. Can Stefanovich defend at a B10 level?
He’s not tiny. At 6’4” you can slot him at either guard positions if you need to. He’s also pretty quick laterally, and he’s playing for the same Head Coach that helped make Ryan Smith a nearly 30 minute a game player. Coach Painter and his staff knows how to teach defense, and they know how to tweak defenses to work to its personnel.
Which is why Stefanovich is so enticing. If he can run an offense and defend, then he all of a sudden becomes not just a nice piece off the bench, but a vital, possibly minute-stealing guard capable of taking minutes from Eastern and incoming freshman Eric Hunter.
As always, there’s a ton of moving chess pieces, but if Carsen Edwards is to take a step towards being more of play maker with the ball in his hands, then a guard opposite him that can shoot becomes even more deadly. If Eastern can guard 3’s and 4’s on the opposite end, you can keep another guard on the floor without penalty. You can never have too much shooting, and I’m about to say something close to heresy, but it’s possible Stefanovich’s jump shot might be just as pure as Mathias’s or Smith’s or Martin’s or, dare I say it? Mounts.
But those are questions for another day. For now, it’s just the simple one. Defend and he’ll play. Purdue’s gonna need all the shooters they can get next season.