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2021-22 Purdue Basketball Homework: The Incoming Freshmen

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Purdue is bringing in a trio of champions, but how do they fit in?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Lee Klafczynski/For IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

We’ve gotten through the returning players for 2021-22 and the walk-ons played such limited minutes that it is hard to see any fo them becoming major contributors like Grady Eifert or Bobby Buckets. Purdue’s walk-ons played in only two games last season: Oakland and at Penn State. Collectively they got 17 minutes, most of which came in the blowout against Oakland. They scored a combined nine points led by 5 from Matt Frost. Their role is simple: be consistent practice players to get everyone else ready and to come in and splash threes in blowouts.

Purdue’s three incoming freshmen have their own homework. Since none of them have played any college ball as of yet it is hard to evaluate where their games are. They do all enter as two-time state champions with their shot at three-peats denied due to COVID cancelling the remainder of the 2020 tournament. All three incoming recruits have not lost a postseason game since they were freshmen in high school and all three were excellent players at that level.

The Big Ten is a different level entirely.

Brian Waddell - 6’7” 175 pound forward - Carmel HS

Let’s start with Waddell, as we already know his role in 2021-22. When he was offered coach Painter was very clear that he would redshirt if he committed. Barring a disaster that forces him to the floor out of necessity we’re not going to see him until 2022-23. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Purdue has the luxury of stashing him in the weight room to bulk up and learn on the practice floor.

Bulking up seems to be the big thing for him. He’s basically a stick for 6’7”. He’s 8 inches taller than me, but I outweigh him by 10 pounds. This past year he averaged better than 15 points and six rebounds, but according to the official IHSAA state finals program he shot an amazing 72% from the floor. He was also 40% from three.

Waddell was good at getting to the basket and playing very, very smart basketball. He is the product of an excellent system at Carmel that certainly prepared him well for the next level. Int he overtime state finals win over Lawrence North he had 20 points and 10 rebounds. He was also 8 of 8 from he free throw line. In time, I think he is going to be a very good Purdue-style player and a solid contributor at the 3.

As a bonus, we get to see how he meshes with our other two recruits during the Indiana All-Star series in early June.

Trey Kaufman-Renn - 6’8” 210 pound forward - Silver Creek HS

In pretty much any other year Kaufman-Renn would have won Mr. Basketball. He averaged 25 points and 11.9 rebounds for Class 3A state champion Silver Creek. He also averaged an impressive 3.7 assists, giving him a strong passing element to his game. In the state title game he had a 13 and 10, but was limited to 5 of 17 shooting. He shot 66.6% from the field, but just 22% from three.

That last number is what he needs to work on the most in my view. I can see him getting minutes at both the three and the four, and that means he has to be able to shoot. He is not going to be a volume shooter from long range like Brandon Newman or Sasha Stefanovic, but he will get open looks. In my opinion, I think Kaufman-Renn will play the most minutes as a true freshman. I see him slotting in to Aaron Wheeler’s role almost perfectly, and Wheeler got plenty of good looks. How does Kaufman-Renn fare from the longer three-point distance?

The good news is that as Purdue’s highest rated recruit (No. 38 nationally) he does not need to come in and be a star immediately. He is the highest rated recruit we have had coming out of high school since Caleb Swanigan, but with the returning talent Purdue has he doesn’t need to have the same impact as Biggie (though if he wants to do that I am fine with it). With Mason Gillis at the four and Purdue’s ability to play three guards at times Trey will be just fine if he simply equals Wheeler’s production.

Caleb Furst - 6’9” 215 pound center - Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian HS

When Purdue has had a parade of 7-footers (or more) come through West Lafayette over the last decade it is a little jarring to see a center that is “only” 6’9”. I mean, if Zach Edey is indeed 7’6” now he makes Furst look a bit like Muggsy Bogues. Furst had a dominant season at the 2A level by averaging 21.5 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 3 assists for the state’s highest scoring team. Do not let the 2A moniker fool you, either. Blackhawk was already playing up a class due to success factor and their regular season saw them beat the 3A champion (Silver Creek) and 1A champion (Barr-Reeve). One of their few loses was at the hands of undefeated Homestead, who entered the tournament at No. 1 in 4A before losing to Carmel. They also grabbed a win over 3A runner-up Leo and beat multiple 4A schools. In fact, if you had gone ahead and played a Final Four of the four class champions (Carmel, Barr-Reeve, Silver Creek, and Blackhawk) you would have had an EXCELLENT series of three games to determine a true state champion where any of the four could have won.

Since Blackhawk played a challenging schedule I like that he was tested all season. He had a 20 and 7 in the title game win over Park Heritage and Blackhawk won all seven of its tournament games by at least 13 points. Furst shot .667 from the floor and .37.7% from three.

I think it is a little harder to see where Furst fits in because he is more of a 4/5 while Kaufman-Renn is a 3/4. Furst might battle Trey for that Aaron Wheeler role, and if he can shoot the three better from the 4 spot (and there are looks as we saw from Gillis) it could see him pass Kaufman-Renn in minutes.

Given the number of open looks Wheeler and Gillis got this past season the ability of either guy to consistently knock down those 3-4 open looks from long range between them will be key. It will also open up so much more for Edey/Williams and the attacking ability of Newman and Ivey. Look at Purdue’s best teams under Painter. What was something that unlocked so much of the rest of the offense? It was having a 4 that could step out and be a threat from three. Robbie Hummel. Vince Edwards. Grady Eifert. Even Evan Boudreaux to an extent (Purdue was very good offensively when he was hitting). That 4 pulling out the defense unlocks so much for Purdue, be it Williams/Edey getting those one-on-one matchups where they have a huge advantage of Ivey driving the lane to dunk on people’s heads.

It is also intriguing to see what Purdue could do with a small ball lineup of Furst at the 5. Trevion Williams and Zach Edey will get the lion’s share of minutes there because Tre is one of the best bigs in the country and Edey is a talented giant that cannot be guarded one-on-one. There won’t be a ton of minutes there, but experimenting with some small ball in a December blowout of a low major could bear fruit.

For all three guys the biggest assignment is to integrate themselves within the existing structure over the summer. They get a few practices to play together with the All Star series, then it is time to come in and play with a very talented returning cast. Since Waddell is redshirting Furst and Kaufman-Renn will both battle for Wheeler’s minutes while Kaufman-Renn will hopefully give Purdue some size at the 3 as lineups dictate. Both commits that will play allow Purdue more versatility based on matchups, which is always good.

Given that I have now written on everyone here, here is who I see playing where:

PG: Eric Hunter Jr. as starter, Ethan Morton or Isaiah Thompson as backup. Jaden Ivey as primary ball handler in crunch time.

SG: Brandon Newman and Sasha Stefanovich, with Thompson getting some minutes to get hot from three (he was just under 40% this year).

SF: This is where I see Jaden Ivey as the third guard starter. Sasha and Newman are more pure shooters, thus why I see them as the “SG”. Ivey is just an assassin that can go between the 1,2, or 3. He will play the most minutes of the guards and float between the three spots. Sasha if we want to go with an Ivey-Newman-Sasha mad bomber group. Trey Kaufman-Renn can play here if we want to try a bigger lineup, but I think we see three guard combos 85% of the time to be honest. If Newman and Ivey both thrive together as scoring guards with Hunter/Morton/Thompson emerging as distributors, holy shit.

PF: Mason Gillis as the starter. Caleb Furst and Kaufman-Renn battling to fill the Wheeler role.

C: Trevion Williams and Zach Edey as the best big man duo in America. Furst for some small ball experimentation.

Starters: Hunter, Ivey, Newman, Gillis, Williams