Key Departures: Aaron Wheeler (–>St. John’s)
New In Town: Trey Kaufman (#43); Caleb Furst (#63); Brian Waddell (NR)
State of the Program:
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers enter this season on the heels of what has to be the best coaching job of Painter’s career. Last year’s group featured 0 Seniors and only 5 guys who had ever played collegiate basketball, and they rallied from a 7-5 start to finish 4th in the Big Ten and earn a 4 seed in the big dance. The disappointing 1st round upset should serve as both motivation and valuable experience for one of this year’s favorites in the Conference, as Painter gets back all 5 starters and 8 of 9 regular rotation guys. That returning group is headlined by 1st Team All-Conference big man Trevion Williams (SR) and All-Freshman and emerging star Jaden Ivey (SO). Ivey came to campus a year ago like a wild mustang that Painter was challenged with taming, as he was filled with untethered ability and unwavering confidence, which led to as many highlight reel moments as head scratching ones. His numbers on the season won’t wow you, but if you were paying close attention he came on strong to end the season, averaging 15.8 ppg the last 10, scoring in double figures 9 of those 10. The game seemed to click for him, as he worked to harness his limitless potential, and the anticipation of a Sophomore jump has Boilermaker fans oozing with excitement. Joining Ivey in a crowded backcourt are 4 returning pieces in PG Eric Hunter (SR), G Sasha Stefanovic (SR), G Brandon Newman (SO) and PG Isiah Thompson (JR). I would expect things to look similar as a year ago, with Hunter and Stefanovic to join Ivey as starters, Newman rotating heavily and Thompson spelling Hunter at the point. The frontcourt is equally as loaded, with 3 returning and 2 stud Freshmen set to arrive on campus. At the 5 should be the classic 2 man rotation Painter deploys seemingly every year, with Trevion the headliner and 7’4”All-Freshman returnee Zach Edey (SO) as the best backup 5 in the country. Mason Gillis (SO) also returns after stealing the starting 4 spot and never looking back in his first season, but some off the court trouble clouds his future, especially with the incoming Freshmen who will both be competing for those minutes. All of this firepower have made expectations the highest they’ve been in West Lafayette since the Baby Boilers era.
And about those Freshmen. 6’8” PF Trey Kaufman (#43) headlines this year’s group and boy is he an exciting prospect. Reminding you of a guy like De’Andre Hunter, he’s a matchup nightmare as he can punish smaller defensive players with a crafty post-up game while also having the ability to attack bigger, slower defenders off the bounce. His jump shot looks good and he can stretch out to the 3 point line, however it’s a bit slow from catch to release, something he will need to improve, a la former Boiler Vince Edwards. If he can hang defensively he could leap Gillis at the 4, but regardless he should have a big role in the rotation either way. Not to be out-hyped is 2021 Indiana Mr. Basketball 6’8” PF/C Caleb Furst (#63). The southpaw projects as a 4 year mega producer, similar to a guy like former ND star Luke Harangody, as his athleticism will limit his NBA future but his craftiness and motor will eventually make him a nightly double-double threat. He flashes a nice lefty hook and his jump shot looks like it can develop into a solid weapon, but he’ll come onto campus looking to carve out minutes as the 5th interior player on this roster. 6’7” Brian Waddell (NR) is the 3rd member of this class and will likely redshirt year one as an under-recruited, high IQ high motor kid. He will surely make his presence known in a couple of years. It’s simply the Purdue way…cue the Grady Eifert highlights.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for Coach Painter as he has a strong group of 10 guys that could, and should, play their own important role for this year’s team. How he handles the Gillis/Kaufman/Furst conundrum is the storyline to watch early. Will he go big and slide Gillis to the 3 some to work in Kaufman/Furst at the 4? And what does that do to the 5 man backcourt that would be squeezed to 2 positions? Eventually I see one of Thompson/Furst getting buried to create a 9 man rotation, and it could even be matchup dependent to determine the small/big lineup. Either way, there will be heavy competition for playing time beyond Ivey and Williams, and as they say iron sharpens iron so I can only expect Painter to relish being in this position. On a macro level, thanks to the duo of Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams this team is positioned to cut nets this season, as a Conference championship and Final Four trip are as realistic goals as I can imagine for Purdue. How Ivey develops as a star and go-to scorer is the key factor in getting this team over the hump, and if it happens Purdue will be must watch TV all season and can vie for a National Championship.