It’s hard to believe we’re already less than two months away from another college basketball season. Football has only just started, but it’s just 55 days until Purdue’s season opener against Fairfield on November 6th.
It’s hard to think of back to back Sweet 16 appearances as disappointing, but the Boilermakers have suffered from the expectations of experience. With four seniors starting last year, and on the heels of a Sweet 16 loss the year before, Purdue had high hopes to finally clear the Sweet 16 hurdle. But one of those four seniors, Isaac Haas, suffered a fractured elbow in the first NCAA tournament game and Purdue was unable to take down the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Fitting then that we start the countdown with #55, Sasha Stefanovich. The Crown Point native spent last season on the bench watching the previous senior class set most win records and going on an 18 game winning streak. He wore a redshirt for the occasion.
Instead of experience, Coach Painter will have a bunch of intriguing and relatively unknown options to try and built on the programs consistency over the last four years.
Stefanovic left Crown Point as the school’s leading scorer. In his senior season he averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. He was named an Indiana All-Star.
He was apart of Purdue’s Silver-Medal winning World University Games in Taipei two summer ago, where he held his own. He joined fellow redshirting freshman, Aaron Wheeler, and the USA East Coast All-Stars this summer in Italy for national games against Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Stefanovic was offered a scholarship late in the normal recruiting process, but he represents Coach Painter’s pledge to grab a shooter every recruiting class. With the loss of Purdue’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, Dakota Mathias, this year’s team will need Stefanovic to be a major perimeter threat alongside Ryan Cline and Carsen Edwards.
The intriguing part of Stefanovic’s game will be how much he’s advanced in a year of tutelage from Purdue’s coaching and training staff. He is a sneaky quick guard with decent size who really excels moving off the ball. His offensive game might be one of the most balanced options for Matt Painter, and a year of weight training and going up against his teammates should make him much more prepared on the defensive end than he would have been a year ago.
With so many freshman coming to campus and the black hole in the starting lineup where four seniors used to reside, even a year of experience might seem like a life raft for Coach Painter at times this year. Expect Stefanovic to really challenge Eric Hunter’s minutes. While Hunter comes to campus with the accolades, Stefanovic offers the experience and threat off the ball that will come in handy next to Carsen Edwards and Nojel Eastern, who look to have the ball in their hands a lot this year.
And while Stefanovic will probably surprise people with a more well-rounded game than his ‘shooter’ tag might suggest, it’s worth noting that he’s really good at shooting the basketball. Like, really good. His jump shot is something to marvel at. A quick, picturesque release point that will help just a little bit with missing Dakota Mathias this season.
55 days and counting. We’re officially counting down.