FORT WAYNE – Most of Purdue’s roster won’t try to jump with freshman forward Basil Smotherman anymore.
Smotherman has become something of a dunk and momentum-play specialist for the Boilermakers. Trying to elevate with the Lawrence North graduate is just a bad idea.
They used to, but they just don’t, said the 6-foot-5 Smotherman, who is averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for Purdue (8-2). I’ve dunked on Kendall (Stephens) twice. I know I dunked on a couple more people. They’re just done jumping with me.
Coach Matt Painter noticed that, and he noticed the energy Smotherman plays with, too. That’s resulted in three starts for the freshman who was the lowest-ranked player in the Boilermakers’ 2013 recruiting class.
Most services had Smotherman outside their top-150. Rivals.com had him as No. 112 on the list, by far the highest ranking of any evaluation site.
I really like his approach, Painter said after giving Smotherman his first start during the Old Spice Classic. He’s given us honest effort and worked his way past some people.
He hasn’t been the only member of a young and undervalued freshman class to step into a key role.
There’s Stephens, the 6-6 sharpshooter who has the ability to change games with his 3-point shot. Bryson Scott, the Northrop graduate who has led the team in scoring four times this year, was another member of that unheralded 2013 group.
In Purdue’s game against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 7, all three started, alongside senior guard Terone Johnson and redshirt freshman forward Jay Simpson. It might have been a message to the older players, and four returning starters, that their positions weren’t safe if the veteran Boilers kept slacking.
Or it could be that these young players are just that good.
Each person on this team’s got different things that they bring to the table, said Stephens, who is averaging 7.8 points and has started nine of Purdue’s 10 games. Like Coach Painter says, each person has their own craft, and you’ve just got to master that. If you’re gonna be great – if you’re gonna be good at something, you want to be great at it.
That’s a message the freshmen have embraced, and it’s led to starting roles. Smotherman is the energy guy. Stephens is a 3-point specialist who provides length on the perimeter defensively. Scott is a quick defender, fearless on both ends and can get to the rim through contact.
Unlike some of the more established members of the program, such as sophomore A.J. Hammons, the newcomers don’t have an identity crisis game to game. They might not be veterans, but they know their roles and how to fit them within the confines of the game.
Some of that, Smotherman said, might have to do with what those players have had to do to get noticed. Entering his final year at Lawrence North, the small forward had a lot to prove.
There was people that thought I couldn’t play in the Big Ten, and I’m gonna be honest, that hurt me, he said. I went out there my senior year and proved people wrong. And now, here, you have to prove people wrong.