Their roles will need to be more significant and their learning curve will be steeper, but the five freshmen for Purdue are actually as good as IU’s vaunted incoming class. What gives IU the edge this year is its veteran supporting cast. (Who would you take, Cody Zeller or Sandi Marcius?) But the Boiler newbies come into this season with their own pedigree. And unlike many of IU’s freshmen, the young Boilers will start. “Each one of these players will impact our program from day one,” says Purdue coach Matt Painter.
The Fab Five:
A.J. Hammons (7-0, 280, Center, Carmel, IN).
A Carmel kid who flew under the radar. Led his prep school to 44-0 and a No. 1 rating last season. Great shooter. “He is a true post player,” says Painter. My take is he’ll be as good (numbers wise) as Zeller was last year—which wasn’t bad. And Zeller will be gone after this year and Hammons has a couple more before he leaves early for the NBA.
Ronnie Johnson (6-0, 170, Point Guard, Indianapolis, IN).
Johnson runs the floor a lot like Yogi Ferrell, but he played tougher competition in the 5A Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. Not to be confused with the other Johnsons on the team—older brother Terone or Anthony from Illinois—Ronnie is a kid the coach is counting on. “He’s the quintessential point guard,” Painter says. “He makes everybody around him better.”
Rafael Davis (6-5, 211, Guard, Fort Wayne, IN).
Davis has been a leading scorer at every stage he has played. He has length much like the departed IU recruit Ron Patterson (Davis boasts a wingspan of 12 feet), but his defense is not his main attribute. Painter likes his offensive side. “He’s a flat-out scorer,” he says.
Jay Simpson (6-9, 268, Forward, Champaign, IL).
Simpson is Purdue’s version of IU’s Peter Jurkin, although not quite as much of a stiff. “Simpson is a big-body kid who can shoot,” Painter says. “He can score the ball inside and out.” His conditioning last year was impeded by asthma attacks, but the coach says those are behind him. “Once he gets in great physical shape, he’ll be a load.” His minutes will probably come off the bench in support of Davis or Byrd at power forward.
Donnie Hale (6-8, 221, Forward, New Albany, IN).
At 21 years old, this former Indiana All Star isn’t a typical freshman. But he brings a year of prep and a redshirt year in with these recruits to round out a pretty powerful five. “He’s an excellent player facing the basket and a very good scorer,” said Painter.
Hoosier fans can point at preseason polls all they like, but these Boilers aren’t going to be the pushover they may hope. Purdue will make the tournament and advance to the Sweet 16. See you there, IU.