One of the biggest letdowns in the past 32 years of Purdue basketball has been the inability to reach the biggest stage in college hoops: the Final Four.
Several opportunities have surfaced:
- 1994 with Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson
- 2000 with Gene Keady’s most overachieving team in history
- The 2009-10 and 2010-11 teams prior to Robbie Hummel’s ACL injuries.
The Boilers have failed to reach the promised land for over three decades.
But all of that is about to change … barring any horrific injury, of course.
The class of 2012 is Purdue head coach Matt Painter’s best recruiting class since the 2007 “Baby Boilers,” which consisted of Hummel, JaJaun Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, and Scott Martin.
While many Purdue basketball supporters will consider the 2007 class his best recruiting job for many years, the most recent group of freshman to join the Boilermakers basketball program will prove to be Painter’s best work.
This year’s class consists of three top 100 recruits in A.J. Hammons (C), Rapheal Davis (SG), and Ronnie Johnson (PG), all of whom are in the top 20 of their respective positions. Purdue also landed a top 35 power forward in Jay Simpson, a high school teammate of Davis at La Lumiere.
While it is hard to compare a group of incoming freshman to three NBA draft picks (Johnson, Moore, Hummel), it isn’t difficult to understand the great coaching job that Painter does on a regular basis. It’s because of Painter’s defensive-minded strategy that I believe this group of guys can come into West Lafayette and get the job done.
The biggest reason this class will push for a national championship by the 2015 season is the arrival of the seven-foot, 250-pound Hammons, the first true big man to play for Painter.
Many will argue that JaJaun was a significant big man in college basketball during his junior and senior seasons at Purdue, being an offensive threat at one end and a shot blocker on the other end. The argument is valid, but because of his scrawny stature, JaJaun was a guy that liked to show off his range with a jump shot rather than battle in the post.
Hammons has a little more meat on his bones and will be stationed on the blocks on both ends of the court for nearly every possession of his career in a Purdue uniform. Hammons’ size and frame will allow him to be a threat offensively inside the paint, and the tutelage of Painter on the defensive side of the ball will create a guy who is competing for the Naismith Player of the Year award.
Maybe it’s because I’m old fashioned, but I still think a great team starts in the middle.
In addition to Hammons, Davis will be the guy that can turn it on at the flick of a switch. He has the entire offensive package: the ability to drive the ball to the basket and initiate contact plus the consistency to knock down jumpers from a distance. If Davis puts his mind in attack mode, he will provide a lot of offensive production for the Boilers.
Not to discount the importance of Ronnie Johnson and Simpson, these guys will be the glue that holds the team together. They aren’t going to put up consistent double-doubles or become regular 20-point scorers, but they will do the dirty work that helps transition good teams in great teams.
Ronnie will be the speedster assist man and defensive nuisance. Basically, he will be taking over where Lewis Jackson left off. He is only 5’9, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it took him a while to adjust to the college game, but the fact that his brother, Terone, is already in a uniform for the Boilers could help his maturation process.
Finally, Simpson will be the clean up man. He’ll be a rebounder, get a lot of junk baskets, and be a big body on defense.
Knowing Purdue fans the way I do, it won’t be long before Simpson becomes a fan favorite.
Several classes and even more players for Purdue have dealt with high expectations and, unfortunately, have fallen short of the ultimate goal. It seems a little ridiculous to place these expectations on a group of 18-year-old kids who are entering into their first year of college hoops, especially for a school that hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1980.
But with a group of kids with this much talent, it’s hard to hold them to anything but the highest standard.
With three top-100 basketball players that will almost certainly stick around for all four years of their college careers, it would be a failure to not play at least one game in the Final Four.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Hummel doesn’t injure his ACL, Purdue has an NCAA National Championship banner hanging inside Mackey Arena right now, making the 2007 recruiting class the best in Painter’s career.
But he did tear his ACL, and there is no banner.
Now it’s time for the 2012 group to take the Boilers to a place they haven’t been in over 30 years, and I fully expect them to do so.