|Purdue sophomore class playing big entering NCAAs|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 16 March 2009 21:52|
Coach Matt Painter recruited Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore as a collection of homegrown winners who could restore the program's reputation as a national power.
Purdue's class was recognized as one of the nation's best, but it was overshadowed by individual stars such as Indiana's Eric Gordon, USC's O.J. Mayo, Memphis' Derrick Rose and Kansas State's Michael Beasley.
While those superstars left school after one year, Purdue's sophomore class has begun to realize its potential.
The trio led the No. 17 Boilermakers to the Big Ten tournament title on Sunday with a 65-61 win over Ohio State. All three were on the all-tournament team, and Hummel was chosen most outstanding player.
Moore were Amateur Athletic Union teammates for the Indiana-based SYF players, and all three played for the Indiana All-Stars in high school.
``We have a really great chemistry, on and off the court,'' Johnson said. ``I think that was one of the reasons we all came here - the opportunity to play together. We've played together for so long. It's just a good fit for all of us.''
The Boilermakers hope to take another step by making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Fifth-seeded Purdue will play 12th-seeded Northern Iowa on Thursday in the West regional.
Painter couldn't help but recall that Purdue was struggling when he recruited the sophomores who now are his three top scorers. Purdue went 9-19 in 2005-06, Painter's first season.
``It was huge to land these three guys, because really when they committed to us, we were in last place in the Big Ten,'' he said. ``These guys made decisions in my opinion for the right reasons, because there was a need for them.''
Hummel, a 6-foot-8 forward, was the Big Ten preseason player of the year. He missed several games this season with a hairline fracture in his lower back. When he returned to near full strength at the Big Ten tournament, he lifted the team by averaging 16.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Hummel deflected credit for the most outstanding player award.
``That's a great honor for me,'' he said. ``I think there's two guys sitting next to me that are definitely capable, deserving of winning that award. And that doesn't even go for the other guys in this league that are capable of it, too. I think a lot of guys really stepped up and played well in this tournament. So it's an honor to me.''
Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center, was a first-team all conference pick and a member of the league's all-defensive team. He averaged 13.2 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field this season. He became the focus of the offense while Hummel was out.
``He definitely has that scorer's mentality that he didn't have at the start of the year,'' Hummel said. ``I think when we had a lot of guys going down and a lot of guys that were sick, he kind of became more of a scorer and more aggressive.''
Moore, a 6-foot-3 guard, has quietly led the Boilermakers in scoring again. He was an all-conference second-team pick for the second straight year. He scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half of the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. He averages 13.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Johnson started 17 games last season, but has started 32 this season.
The trio was talented enough for Painter to feel comfortable giving them on-the-job training.
``They've been able to play through their mistakes,'' Painter said. ``Really, Rob and E'Twaun from day one. JaJuan has really grown this year but he's also grown because he's gotten more minutes.''
All have willingly sacrificed individual numbers for something they see as greater.
``They've made the most of the opportunity, and they're team guys, which is important, especially at Purdue,'' Painter said. ``We need team guys, and the other guys rallied behind them.''