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WEST LAFAYETTE – Is Kentucky the example of what the future of college basketball holds? Or is it more likely that programs that can hold onto their players longer than six-plus months will make for the more memorable teams?
In the case of Purdue, Boilermaker fans – and its players and coaches for that matter – hope that it proves to be the latter, rather than the former.
After winning the 2012 NCAA championship, the Wildcats sent five players to the NBA Draft last month and none were older than a sophomore. That might lead you to believe that the only path to a title is out the (early) exit door. But that doesn't really fit the M.O. of the Purdue program.
“We're a program that has great tradition and we get four-year players,” Boilermaker redshirt sophomore Anthony Johnson said. “I think that really helps going into a tournament.”
Johnson and his teammates opened the 2012-13 season on Monday at Mackey Arena with the first of 10 practices in preparation for a 10-day trip to Italy next month. The Boilermakers have just six scholarship players returning this season, so like Johnson; everyone has found themselves in a much more significant role.
“It definitely feels different,” Johnson said of his role. “I'm helping (senior D.J. Byrd) lead the team now. That's something that I look forward to as a challenge. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to help the team any way that I can and helping to lead the young guys.”
Johnson fits the model of what Purdue has tried to build under both former coach Gene Keady, as well as current coach Matt Painter. The Boilermakers have had six players drafted since Glenn Robinson bolted for the NBA following his sophomore season in 1994, but all have completed their eligibility before doing so.
In the case of Johnson, he spent a year just building his body and game as a redshirt before embarking on his (hopefully for Purdue fans) four seasons in West Lafayette.
“Other programs may have younger guys that don't know what is coming for them,” Johnson said. “When you're here for two or three years, things become familiar, they become second nature.”
The 6-foot-3 guard spoke Monday of “understanding the system” better as he enters his third year in the program. He averaged nearly 16 minutes per game last season, but has higher expectations for himself this year. Johnson has added over “10 or 11 pounds” of muscle since the NCAA Tournament loss (63-60) to national runner-up Kansas in March and is prepared for a bigger role.
“I'm going to show (coach Painter) that he can trust me in tough situations,” Johnson said. “This year I plan on doing some big things. A lot of people are doubting us. As a team, we feel like we deserve more respect than we are getting.”
Johnson was viewed as an offensive burst off of the bench, but with true freshman Ronnie Johnson as the most viable option at the point guard position, Johnson has spoken with Painter about helping run the Boilermaker offense when needed.
“I definitely can play the point,” Johnson said. “It comes down to making the right decisions and I'm going to show him that I can make the right decisions. It's not a huge transition. (Painter) usually wants me to score the ball, but it's more of a Purdue first, I look for my teammate first on a drive instead of me looking for my own shot.”