After the warm-up act, the headlining band took the stage. Everyone at Mackey was really excited to see this year's team and the new crop of freshmen. You could tell because people didn't leave after sitting in 100+ degree heat during the alumni game, and more people showed up in the lower expensive* seats. (*all lower bowl seats were $10, including the gold club seats and courtside tables. We hoi polloi can't get too comfortable down there though.)
The scrimmage had three periods, each of which switched up the teams. The first scrimmage pitted the seniors in black (DJ Byrd and Dru Anthrop) and the true freshmen (Ronnie Johnson, AJ Hammons, and Rapheal Davis) against the rest of the team in gold. Jay Simpson didn't play in order to heal his broken foot. That's a shame since he'll miss the extra practice playing in Italy, and we already have a lot of depth in the front court.
Right off the bat, I felt like the black team would dominate, and they did the majority of the time. The talent level of these freshmen, paired with Byrd's shooting and leadership, was fun to watch. The older Johnsons did the most work for the gold team, but Sandi Marcius showed that he's continued his development from his late-season success.
During the scrimmages, the assistant coaches worked from the bench, while Painter stood in the corner yelling instructions and walking onto the court for some teachable moments. I was fortunate to be sitting right next to him during the first scrimmage. Some of the things he said were quite hilarious, like chastising poor shot selection or the heat, but he spent a lot of time making sure guys knew where to be, and commending them for good passes or defense. I was especially impressed with how much time Painter spent with Ronnie.** You can tell that Painter not only sees a world of potential in the freshman point guard, but also that he recognizes how fast his learning curve needs to be if the team is to have a successful season. (**I've decided all Johnsons will be referred to by their first name, as will Rapheal, because his first name is way cooler than "Davis")
For the gold team, Terone ran the point, but throughout the afternoon we saw Anthony and Anthrop also bring the ball up the court (in addition to Ronnie). Rapheal started off defending the point, which was the first unexpected thing involving him. The second was that I learned his name is pronounced "Ray-feel." You could have given me ten guesses and that wouldn't have been one of them.
It's hard to evaluate too much from the scrimmage, which featured some sloppy offensive play, as the team is still learning, but I'll do my best to highlight the larger takeaways.
- Depth down low: We all knew coming in that the team boasted more bigs than guards, a rarity for recent Purdue teams. But just having more guys doesn't equal quality. After watching the scrimmage though, I'm very excited about the skills, athleticism, and match-up problems our post players possess.
- Marcius has come a long way and played with more aggressiveness and confidence than I've seen.
- Hammons is going to be a force and definitely didn't have effort problems. His size in the paint causes a lot of problems defensively, and he showed huge range, hitting a three and long two.
- Jacob Lawson was also a bit improved. His athleticism is off the charts, as he'd leap into the air for blocks and rebounds. He still needs to play smarter, but improvement is nice.
- Travis Carroll, Donnie Hale, and Jay Simpson will all have their chance to earn more playing time, too. I hope Simpson can move ahead of Carroll and Hale once he is healthy.
- Rebounding: The team's size and athleticism should hopefully result in fewer games where they are out-rebounded. Fewer second chance points for the opponent is always a good thing, and our offense could definitely use some easy put-backs.
- Ability to get to the basket: Ronnie, Rapheal, Terone, and Anthony all have the ability to get to the rim quickly and in traffic. Hopefully when they do they can make a clean basket, because the first weakness listed below will be killer otherwise.
- Hustle: I think this team is going to play very, very hard for Coach Painter. With young guys fighting for playing time and pushing the older guys to work harder, loads of athleticism and speed, and the typical Boilermaker defensive pressure, this team will be able to out hustle some opponents. Painter also had the team run sprints after the game, despite the horrible heat, so there's no excuse to not be in great shape this season.
- Free throw shooting: We knew that losing Robbie would hurt the team's average, especially after Terone and Anthony's woes last season, but free throw shooting was absolutely horrible (sub 50%). I just don't understand how a team can do so poorly from the line. I know Terone got better last season after changing some mechanics, but this is a team-wide epidemic that needs to stop. Maybe after their games in Italy the team can shoot free throws instead of going sightseeing.
- Outside shooting: The guy sitting next to me asked, "So, we're going to have to play Anthrop to field a team that can hit a three, right?" While I'm sure Byrd will have a fine season shooting, and Hammons has proved he can hit an outside shot, I'm not really sure if anyone else on the team can. Anthony took a few, recognizing it's part of his game he needs to improve, but they missed the mark, and Terone and Ronnie didn't fare any better. I don't think I saw Davis shoot from outside, and that wasn't a skill he was known for in high school. Without being able to hit outside shots, it's going to be really tough to keep defenses honest. Just ask Chris Kramer.
- Youth: Let's all just accept the fact that this team is pretty young. They will show flashes of amazing potential but also make some frustrating mistakes. This season is most likely going to be mediocre when compared to our recent successes, although there's definitely the potential for a special season. Take the goods with the bads and focus on how the guys are learning, developing, and gelling as a team.
- Hands down this goes to Marcius. As mentioned above, his late surge last season may have just been a precursor to his development. He's still got work to do defensively to stay out of foul trouble, but he played like a man possessed, and he clearly understands the game better each day. The rest of the returning players didn't seem to show any new skills, which may be a bit concerning as well.
- I don't like to be too hard on any of the current players. If we poke a little fun, it's because we're honest, but we also respect all Boilermaker athletes who try their best. Now that the disclaimer is out there, Travis Carroll will be fighting for playing time this season. I didn't see anything special out of him the entire scrimmage, and he's been lapped by the younger bigs. I'm sure he's got time to improve, and nothing against him personally, I just don't see him fitting in that well with this team either this year or next. I overheard someone wonder if he'd be better served trying to play tight end on the football team. Ouch.
Most critical newcomer:
- Undoubtedly it's walk-on Stephen Toyra. I kid, this has to be a tie between Ronnie and Hammons. Ronnie will be asked to do much more than Hammons this season, since we lack another true point guard. The team's fortunes will grow as he develops, and he has the chance to be great. Hammons also has the chance for greatness and to become a total game-changer. If Marcius isn't as far along as we think, Hammons will be looked upon for a lot more help.
- Going into the scrimmage I wasn't sure if this was going to be Byrd's team, as the lone veteran senior, or Terone's, as the highest potential offensive threat. While both have shown some leadership and will be critical locker room voices during what looks to be an up and down season, I don't think either is the sole leader. Neither one seems to take charge and instill his personal drive in the other players. I guess that means the team's real leader is Matt Painter.
Player most likely to get arrested at Where Else? this season:
- It wouldn't be Purdue athletics without at least one player getting arrested outside Where Else? this year, right? Thanks to his year at prep school and redshirt season, Donnie Hale will turn 21 in October before ever playing an official game. Here's hoping the oldest rookie in the Big Ten uses his wise old age to his advantage, including staying away from crappy bars and playing nice with bouncers.
Scroll down for some great photos from the event. I think GoBoilers.net may become the best photographed Purdue blog out there. Now if only I could get a media pass!
Painter addresses the team before the scrimmage
Terone started off the game playing point
The defense collapsing on Terone
Anthony Johnson (I wish I could still call him AJ) posting up on Ronnie
Rapheal getting a nice block on Anthrop
Anthony driving on Ronnie
Byrd was frequently cracking jokes about how hot it was
Anthony driving on Anthrop, while Jacob "Crazy Eyes" Lawson gets ready for a block. Dude can jump, but when he zones in, his stare alone would alter my shot.
Terone drives on Anthony while Marcius and Hammons bang down low
Byrd tries to get by Rapheal
Terone drives in for a floater
Anthony puts up a floater, over Hammons and Lawson, which is quite impressive. Look how high Lawson gets. Hammons is a brick wall down low, even for his teammates.
Hammons with a rim-bending dunk
Marcius does his goofy dunk dance while hanging on the rim
Ronnie dodges Hammons and goes in for the layup
Rapheal tries to prevent the feed to Marcius