The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, September 29, 2021 1:00 am

Painter keeps Boilers' focus on fundamentals

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue has spent the summer hearing how good it will be.

The Boilermakers are among the Big Ten favorites and potential Final Four contenders on nearly every list imaginable going into the 2021-22 season. That's what happens when a team filled with underclassmen goes 18-11, earns a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, then brings back all five starters and adds the top two players in Indiana Mr. Basketball voting to its roster.

Coach Matt Painter, entering his 17th season leading Purdue, is no stranger to managing expectations and he is endeavoring to keep his team, laden with experience, focused on fundamentals as the season approaches. 

“Anytime you return so many people and you sign three really good freshmen like we have, you're going to have those expectations,” Painter said. “It's still a process, just doing your job and winning the day and not worrying about any of those things. It's nice that people rank you high and say nice things about you ... but it's one of those places you want to be at the end of the year.”

The process Painter spoke about began in earnest this week with the start of preseason practice ahead of the season-opener at Mackey Arena on Nov. 9 against Bellarmine. The Boilermakers held a spirited three-hour practice Tuesday.

A good chunk of the preseason work will be devoted to putting together ultra-big lineups, with two players 6-foot-9 or bigger on the floor for long stretches. That could mean 7-4 Zach Edey and 6-10 Trevion Williams playing together, or it could be Williams playing center alongside 2021 Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Furst, a Blackhawk Christian graduate, at power forward. The 6-9 Trey Kaufman-Renn is also in the mix at the power forward slot, making it a crowded position.

Those big lineups remain a work in progress.

“It hasn't been great so far, frankly,” Painter said. “We'll keep messing with it to a degree. ... We're trying to get ourselves in the position of Trey Kaufman(-Renn) and Caleb Furst and Trevion Williams being the second-biggest guy on the court.”

That strategy is likely a nod not only to Purdue's depth at center but also to the ability of Furst and Kaufman-Renn and the desire to find them minutes.

“It's definitely an adjustment,” said Furst, who led Blackhawk to state titles in 2019 and 2021. “But it's nice at times not to have the biggest guy on the court guarding me, but to be able to move and to play with Zach or Trevion.”

Williams, who was named one of the five best centers in the country last season, envisions a game plan that involves him on the perimeter more often offensively. The senior made four 3-pointers in a row Tuesday during a spot-up shooting drill.

The veteran believes his team is prepared to take advantage of the talent on the roster.

“This is my last shot, Eric (Hunter), Sasha (Stefanovic), this is our last shot,” Williams said of the team's seniors. “We've all been through it. Jaden (Ivey), those (sophomores), it's only been one year, but they know what it feels like to lose in the first round (of the NCAA Tournament). ... They know what it feels like now and I told them, 'We don't ever want to feel like this again.' 

“Our expectations as a team are very high and everyone understands that. We just have to put the pieces together.”

Notes: Guard Brandon Newman, a sophomore who averaged 8 points last season, missed practice Tuesday with an ankle/foot issue, Painter said. Newman had a scan Tuesday, and the Boilermakers should know more in a few days. ... Ivey, a Big Ten All-Freshman performer last season, rolled an ankle Tuesday and was on the ground in pain for about a minute before leaving the court. He later returned for a few trips up and down the court and said he should be fine in a few days.

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