Welcome back, Senior Day.
We haven’t really had one of these in a while at Purdue. Two years ago Tommy Luce was the lone 4-year player honored on senior day, along with transfers Evan Boudreaux and Jahaad Proctor. Last year there were no seniors, but there were no fans, either. While the day will not be the celebration of a championship we all wanted, we still get to celebrate the careers of four guys that have been a large part of Purdue basketball. Three played a role in the 2019 Big Ten championship as freshmen. Three had a role in the tournament run that year that had Purdue on the cusp of the Final Four. All four also stuck around after the weirdness of last year to help maintain what could still be a very special March if things go well.
Sasha Stefanovic – Matt Painter makes liberal use of redshirt years, but there are a lot of times where the player that redshirts ends up not staying all five seasons. In fact, Sasha is the first such player to stay all five years since Robbie Hummel, and Rob didn’t exactly have a choice when he used his. If you count his redshirt year he has completed the Delaney Dozen of winning in all 14 Big Ten Arenas.
Sasha has had some big moments in his career. He has a game-winning shot to his credit at Northwestern in 2020 and he also had a game-tying three to send that year’s Minnesota game to overtime. He bombed away on defending champion Virginia that year as well. With 215 made threes he is one behind Hummel for 7th on the career list. Purdue’s postseason will also determine another milestone for him. He is sitting on 933 career points, 67 short of becoming the 54th 1,000 point scorer. He has, at minimum, three games left, but probably needs at least five to get there, so let’s go on a run.
Sasha has evolved his game so much too. On paper, he is part of the lineage of shooters from Ryne Smith DJ Byrd to Dakota Mathias to Ryan Cline to him. He has added a driving element to his game, and he is also a steady and reliable free throw shooter. Purdue needs his shooting though. When he is getting his looks at hitting them it opens up the offense. Just look at the last two games. At Michigan State, he had 2 points and Purdue lost. At Wisconsin he got off to a hot start with 11 points, but then was shut down the rest of the game.
He has been a joy to watch though. Hopefully he has some big moments coming up in March.
Eric Hunter Jr. – Eric has had an interesting career. He came to Purdue as one of the all-time leading scorers in Indiana high school history. He is still 8th on the all-time list with 2,583 points, just eight behind Rick Mount, for perspective. He has never been asked to score at that volume at Purdue though. In his best season, 2019-20, he only averaged 10.7 points per game. He has 782 points and counting for his career, so he should finished over 800 when all is said and done. That is a modest career, but he is your typical Purdue role player.
Hunter has never been the focal point of the offense, but he serves a big role. He is the de facto starting point guard, and with 245 career assists he has done well. He is an opportunistic scorer too, often scoring off of back cuts or open threes out of double teams in the post. This year he is having his best season from long range at over 43%. With two more triples he will reach 100 for his career.
He is another player that when he is effective, Purdue’s offense is a lot better. He is also the top perimeter defender on the team, which is always a vital role within the overall game plan. At Minnesota this year her had a career high 20, so he is more than capable of having a big game to assist the team.
For his career Eric has been a great glue guy. He has done everything asked of him, and he will have a big role in whatever March success we have.
Trevion Williams – Tre has become one of my favorite Boilers. I love his exuberance and he selflessness in coming off the bench for more of this season. Even then, he is such a key player to Purdue’s offense. His ability to score from the block, pass, and rebound is essential to Purdue’s offense. I don’t think it is a coincidence that in three of his worst games (Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin) Purdue lost. If we get the great Tre in those games I have little doubt we win all three.
When Tre is on, he is one of the best big men in America. He becomes unstoppable one-on-one and when doubled he finds the open man on a back cut or for an open three. His passing is elite. He pretty much single-handedly won the North Carolina State game this year with a near triple-double as he dragged Purdue back from the brink of what would have been a brutal loss.
He has also been clutch. He hit the game-winner at Michigan State last year and scored what looked like a game-winner at Rutgers this year before the Harper heave. There have also been a number of times where Purdue has absolutely needed a basket in the closing minutes and he has gotten it, like at Penn State this season. He burst onto the scene in the loss to Notre Dame in 2018-19 and ended up playing a huge role in that team’s success as only a freshman. Tuesday night he passed Terone Johnson for 29th on the all-time scoring list with 1,319 points. With 10 more he passes Mike Robinson and Willie Deane. A lengthy tournament run could get him to David Teague at 1,378.
I will be honest: Purdue’s success in March will go as Tre goes. We absolutely need “good Tre” to have a deep run. When he is on and combined with Edey, Purdue can put the best center in America on the floor for all 40 minutes of a game and it opens up so much more offensively. We have seen Tre just take games over even as a reserve. His passing and offensive rebounding is also critical. He is 8th on the career rebounds list with 849, and 340 of those were on the offensive end. His ability on the offensive glass is worth 4-6 points per game.
Tre deserves to go out in a blaze of glory. I hope we see maximum Tre the rest of the season, because if we do, we’re going to still be playing basketball for a while.
Jared Wulbrun - I had completely spaced that Purdue also has a walk-on senior this year, so my apologies. Like many walk-ons, Wulbrun hasn’t seen he floor a ton in his career. He started his career at Cal Lutheran, where he was a starter and averaged 6.6 points as a freshman out of Palo alto, CA in 2018-19. he wanted a shot at Division 1 though, so he came to Purdue the next year as a walk-on thanks to his dad’s relationship with coach Painter.
Since then we have seen him at the ends of 20 games in three years as part of the walk-on victory formation. He has gone 2 of 6 from he floor int hat time, both of them three pointers, and he added a couple of free throws this year for eight total points in his career. He scored those two against Wright State this year, and he hit his threes against Oakland last year and Jacksonville State in 2019-20. His last action came in the home win over Illinois, where he got in for one minute. His career highlight is probably dishing two assists to the immortal Tommy Luce for threes against Iowa in 2020.
Barring a blowout in any of the remaining games, we’re probably not going to see him on the floor again as a Boiler. Still, like most walk-ons, he has been a valuable practice player. He can always say he was part of a No. 1 ranked team, even if only for a brief moment.
Jaden Ivey – Yes, Jaden is not a senior. He is only a sophomore, but let’s be honest: Saturday is his final game in Mackey Arena. He is a projected top 5 pick in the summer’s NBA Draft. There is no way he is staying when he can declare and get paid a lot of money to work on his game as a rookie next season.
Jaden is such a fluid player. He just glides at times. Purdue has never had a guard as athletic as he is. He is also fearless. His two game-winners against Ohio State were examples of how he is not afraid to take the big shot. For about 8 seconds on Tuesday he had another legendary shot as he tied things up at Wisconsin. This was after he had driven to the basket a few times for big buckets to keep Purdue alive.
When Jaden gets that look in his eye, beware. I love that he wants the ball. He wants to be “The Guy”. He wants to dunk on you. This season he has improved his three point shooting and his passing dramatically. A large reason Purdue still has high hopes for March is because we have Jaden Ivey and no one else does. He is going to give us at least a chance in every single game. In just two seasons he has 762 points already. When he plays like a lottery pick Purdue is a team to be feared.
I am happy we have a Jaden Ivey in our corner. That fact alone means we have a chance to keep playing basketball deep into March (and maybe April?)
While this season has not gone as planned so far, Purdue still has a very good team. It will likely have a top 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and be on the short list of Final Four contenders. It will have a favored path to make at least the Sweet 16, and once there, anything can happen. These four guys are a very large reason for that. All four are major contributors, and two of them, Williams and Ivey, are among the best players in the country when they are on. We may not be hanging a Big Ten regular season championship banner this year, but all four of these guys mean we still have a good chance for a Big Ten Tournament championship or maybe even a Final Four.
For that last one, all we need is four games out of them, and in at least the first two of those four we’ll already be a strong favorite. These guys can be the ones that finally take us to the Promised Land, and that would be the best sendoff we can give them.