WEST LAFAYETTE — Back off? Are you nuts? Purdue's return to basketball prominence was fueled by full-throttle effort, and Robbie Hummel's season-ending knee injury doesn't change that.
The Boilers will continue to practice as if their next five meals depend on grabbing the next loose ball or rebound. If that means spilling a little blood, as sophomore guard Dru Anthrop did after splitting open his forehead during a practice collision with teammate John Hart on Thursday, so be it.
If it means returning to the us-against-the-world mentality generated by the drop in national preseason rankings (although the coaches' poll hit – Purdue is ranked No. 8 – wasn't nearly as big as others that knocked them into the 20s), go for it.
“It just amps us up,” senior guard E'Twaun Moore said. “It makes us want to play even harder. It gives us a lot of motivation to stick together and win games.”
Moore, Hummel and fellow senior JaJuan Johnson were expected to lead Purdue back to the Final Four after a 30-year absence. Losing Hummel didn't change the goal. The talent, Moore said, is there.
Moore is a threat to lead the Big Ten in scoring, and will likely surpass 2,000 points for his college career. Johnson is a potential double-double guy in scoring and rebounding and could be, coach Matt Painter said, the best big man in the country.
“This is a championship team,” Moore said. “We still have the tools and pieces. JaJuan is an All-American. We've got shooters. We've got guys who are athletic. We have players who can help us win games.”
In Thursday's practice Moore's hot shooting reflected an offseason of heavy work, and he wasn't alone. Guards Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow demonstrated shooting consistency both lacked last season. Forward Patrick Bade lost 20 pounds and gained quickness, stamina and strength. Freshman Terone Johnson showed he can play defense to match his heralded offensive creativity.
Redshirt freshman forward Sandi Marcius was back after missing the last month with a sprained ankle. The 6-9, 260-pounder will provide much needed inside depth, as will 6-9, 230-pound freshman forward Travis Carroll.
“We have a lot of different guys, a lot of different options,” Painter said. “With Rob out, there's an opportunity for a lot of different people to really fulfill their dreams. Every guy we sign wants to come to Purdue, they want to start, they want to play 30 minutes. They want to be a major player on a championship-caliber team.”
Purdue has regained the championship-winning form it lost in the last couple years of the Gene Keady era. In 2009 it won the Big Ten tourney title. Last season it shared the conference championship. It's gone to two straight Sweet 16s and has won 81 games over the past three seasons.
Losing Hummel hurts, Moore said, but changes nothing in the big picture. Even the basketball buzz on campus – Purdue long ago sold out its Paint Crew student section and has its first season-long sellout at Mackey Arena since the 1998-99 season and its ninth overall – hasn't quieted. Moore said no one has talked to him about the Boilers not having a chance at the Final Four.
“I know they're probably thinking it, but I haven't heard it. They wouldn't tell me that. They'd figured I'd get mad.”
He paused. A disrespect-us-at-your-own-risk look flashed across his face.
“I would get mad.”