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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 30, 2017 1:00 am

Purdue to rely on freshmen

Coach likes what he has seen from 7-3 center, guard

JEFF WASHBURN | For The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Considering Purdue has four returning senior starters and prolific sophomore scoring guard Carsen Edwards from its 2017 Big Ten Conference championship team, it would seem unlikely that a pair of freshmen would be in the picture for significant playing time.

But it was evident during and after Friday afternoon's first official practice that 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms and freshman guard Nojel Eastern – each of whom is left-handed – will get plenty of minutes this season even with senior starters Vince Edwards, center Isaac Haas, shooting guard Dakota Mathias and point guard P.J. Thompson.

Coach Matt Painter likes all five of his first-year Boilermakers – freshman forward Aaron Wheeler, junior forward Eden Ewing and freshman guard Sasha Stefanovic are the other three – but Eastern and Haarms will provide immediate need with Thompson the only other true point guard and Haas as the only other true center on the roster.

“With Nojel, he is a very versatile player who passes the ball well,” Painter said. “He knows the game and can guard a lot of different people. We have played him a lot at the point, and his play-making basketball helps us a lot because we have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball.

“Matt gives us size, and is a very intelligent player who can pass. He can knock down shots and just knows the game. He plays hard, and I think his best basketball is ahead of him. He has gained some weight and is about 7-3 and 250 now. He is going to be a good player for us.”

Haarms can play power forward and center and should provide a solid front line with Haas and redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor.

A native of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Haarms picked Purdue after considering Washington State, Vanderbilt and Colorado. He spent his senior year of high school attending Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas.

“It is quite the journey,” Haarms said. “Three years ago, I was still in the Netherlands. My coach had connections in Spain, so our basketball team took a trip there for an extra week of practice. The team in Spain asked me to play a year over there.

“I played well in the season-ending tournament – we got second place – and Sunrise Christian Academy saw me there, contacted me, and I ended up in Wichita, Kansas. Played my senior year there, and then I signed with Purdue, and was able to experience the Big Ten and practice against Biggie (Caleb Swanigan) and Isaac and really learn the physicality they play with here.”

 Eastern, an ESPN.com four-star recruit and the 78th overall high school prospect coming out of Evanston (Illinois) Township High School near the Northwestern campus, turned down offers from Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State to sign with Purdue, which he says was there for him from Day One.

“I see my role as coming in and doing everything defensively,” Eastern said. “I can guard multiple positions. I want to contain my man and help as much as I can on the defensive end and getting stops. That is one of the key roles. I also will bring all the energy that I have. I will do what I do best and get better at everything.”