WEST LAFAYETTE -- On day one of Purdue practice, the tone was set for a new season.
It was the final drill of a Saturday morning practice, and coach Matt Painter had his Boilermakers diving on the floor for loose balls. It ended with a three-man scrum for the ball, and freshman guard Bryson Scott giving everything he could to hold on.
Painter refused to blow the whistle until several seconds later. This is how the Boilermakers are supposed to do it. All through the Cardinal Court gym, Play Hard is plastered on the wall. This team is up for the challenge.
“We’re really competitive,” said senior guard Sterling Carter, a transfer from Seattle University. “We push each other every day in practice. We get into it a little bit, get a little feisty with each other on the court.”
Last season was far from what Purdue is used to. The Boilermakers finished 16-18 and left quietly in the CBI tournament. It wasn’t for a lack of talent on the roster. Purdue didn't play to its blue collar roots, as Painter often conceded.
This is a different Purdue team. It’s a group that is hungry for redemption after a disappointing season.
“Everybody has a chip on their shoulders,” said sophomore point guard Ronnie Johnson. “I think that’s going to help us out going into this season.”
Much of last season’s roster is gone. The Boilermakers graduated a pair and saw four transfers. To fill the roster, a pair of fifth-year transfers—Carter and guard Errick Peck—join a talented trio of freshmen.
For those Boilermakers remaining from one year ago, the sting of failure continues to hurt. But the same goes for those newcomers, looking to help Purdue rise back up.
“They didn’t like that last year, either,” Johnson said. “They’re trying to change that, and so are we. We’ve got to work together to change it.”
Added Carter: “I’ve never been a part of team that’s this competitive, ever.”
Carter joined the Purdue program in hopes of making his last year of eligibility count, doing it at the highest level. He calls this situation a “dream come true.” That may not have been the case last year.
The enthusiasm in practice is a much different element. Painter and his coaching staff don’t need to stop drills and force energy out of the players. Instead, it comes from the senior leadership.
Guard Terone Johnson is one of the Boilermakers leading the locker room, setting an example with workmanship. It’s resonating in the locker room.
“Last year, you had some guys working hard and some guys not on the same page,” the senior guard said. “This year, everybody is working hard.
“The energy is just way different, every day. We make that our focus every day to come out with energy and to be competitive. And I think it’s going to pay off in the end.”
The competition isn’t just on the court. It’s away from Mackey Arena, too. The players are challenging each other in everything, from video games to even shooting wads of paper in a trash can. There has been a fun, lively locker room built—something fostered by the coaches and enforced by the players.
“It’s an amazing turnaround,” said sophomore forward Rapheal Davis. “Day in and day out, we’re getting better. No guys are taking days off, no guys are coming in and guarding a guy like it’s their brother. Guys are going at it with each other.”
It’s a different Purdue team this season. All through the locker room, there are players eager to play hard.
“Everybody is so competitive, and it carries into practice,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to last this year, the next year and the year after that.”
These Boilermakers may be back to the blue collar demeanor their coach demands.