Roster changes have Purdue’s Painter starting over

Purdue head coach Matt Painter argues a call with an official during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Purdue head coach Matt Painter argues a call with an official during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Coach Matt Painter is tired of dealing with the same old problems at Purdue.

He figures he’s spent far too much time dissecting turnovers, poor decisions and working on team chemistry.

So this off-season, he’s starting over. With only five returning scholarship players expected back next season, Painter will get a rare chance to remake this team in the image he prefers — hard-working tough guys who are able to follow the Purdue basketball principles.

“Two years ago, we were the No. 1 team in the country with the fewest turnovers,” Painter said after Thursday’s season-ending loss to No. 24 Ohio State. “So this is a big changing of the guard for us from a personnel standpoint.”

The changes have already begun.

Four seniors are graduating. Redshirt freshman Jay Simpson will not return after doctors diagnosed him with a career-ending heart condition. Starting point guard Ronnie Johnson announced Saturday he is leaving the program after starting 52 of 66 games. There has been speculation that 7-foot sophomore center A.J. Hammons could declare early for the NBA draft.

If Hammons and the others do stick around, Painter will have two juniors — Hammons and Rapheal Davis; three sophomores — Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman and Kendall Stephens; four walk-ons and five freshmen. Four of the freshmen have already signed with the Boilermakers; P.J. Thompson reportedly gave an oral commitment last week.

Will all these moves actually help the Boilermakers rebound next season?

Purdue (15-17) entered the conference tournament with the Big Ten’s second-worst turnover average (12.1), tied for last in the league standings and on a six-game losing streak. So things can’t get much worse.

Those numbers were only part of the problem. There were indications all season that everyone was not on the same page.

“Those guys are going to have be consistent with listening to coach, listening to the leaders and just putting together runs and playing hard all the time,” said senior Terone Johnson, Ronnie’s brother. “I think that’s something coach is going to get them to do.”

Changing things now could be a risky move for a coach who is 31-35 with no NCAA or NIT appearances over the last two seasons.

But he may not have much of a choice.

Hammons would be the foundation of next season’s team. The problem: He’s been inconsistent on the court and erratic off of it. He started this season with a three-game suspension for violating team rules and was benched during his freshman season for showing up late to the team bus.

Davis, Scott, Smotherman and Stephens all can score — though none is taller than 6-6.

Painter does have three freshmen — 6-7 forward Vince Evans, 7-2 center Isaac Haas and 6-9 forward Jacquil Taylor — who could plug some big holes right away.

First, he’s got to find a way to make Purdue one of the Big Ten’s model programs again. Painter knows it will take more than just a plethora of new bodies to change course. He needs a group of players who believe in his old-school philosophy.

“We weren’t able to consistently play hard and play smart at the same time,” Painter said. “Those are two constants in the game you have to do if you’re going to have a good team.”

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