Purdue hoping young team keeps success alive


Purdue hoping young team keeps success alive

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Matt Painter is starting over at Purdue.

The ``Baby Boilers'' are all grown up and have moved away, so Painter is building this season's hopes around a young, unproven roster, full of talent and eager to prove the doubters wrong.

Sound familiar? It should.

``We had to do that without Carl Landry and David Teague,'' Painter said, recalling the challenge his 2007-08 Boilermakers faced. ``A lot of questions go unanswered because we don't have that experience, but it was the same thing five years ago.''

As Purdue fans remember, things turned out pretty well back then - and they could again - even if Painter would rather downplay the comparisons to that previous team, which shocked the Big Ten with four freshmen starters.

But there's little doubt that the lessons those Boilermakers learned then - from working hard to ignoring the hype and criticism - will come in handy now, too.

``They came in, had a great season and ended up second, I think,'' swingman D.J. Byrd said when asked what he remembers about the Baby Boilers. ``They responded very well. They played the right way and ended up getting a lot of wins. That's something we can do, too.''

Byrd and his teammates have no intention of being dubbed ``Baby Boilers II.'' All they really want to do is carve out their own niche in Purdue lore.

After Robbie Hummel & Co. finished their freshmen season as Big Ten runner-ups, they spent the rest of their careers chasing an outright conference championship and that Final Four appearance that has eluded Purdue since 1980. They never quite got either, finishing in a three-way tie for the league title in 2009-10, winning the conference tourney in 2009 and coming within a whisker of upsetting Kansas in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals last season - Hummel's final season.

That may not change this year, but at least Purdue has some experienced starters. They'll get two of their top five scorers - Byrd (8.9 points per game) and guard Terone Johnson (9.2) - back.

Byrd, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound senior, is expected to spend most of his time this season at his more natural swing spot rather than filling in at power forward, where he finished last season. Johnson, a junior, spent most of last season as a backup, but was still the Boilermakers No. 3 rebounder and those numbers that could improve significantly as his playing time increases.

``We're trying to get our own identity, and we feel like we're ready for it,'' Johnson said. ``We can't wait to get into the season.''

Opponents may have their own troubles keeping up with the Johnsons.

Besides Terone Johnson, the Boilermakers have sophomore Anthony Johnson and freshman Ronnie Johnson in the backcourt, too. Ronnie, Terone's younger brother, appears to have sewn up the starting point guard job vacated by Lewis Jackson's departure, and opponents who think Johnson will have trouble making the adjustment to college ball must not forget that he's been feeding the ball to his older brother - and his friends - for most of his life.

``Ronnie's been really productive in practice, but he doesn't have a lot of competition,'' Painter said. ``He sees the floor a frame ahead and that's a quality our other guys don't have.''

With nine freshmen or sophomores on the roster, the Boilermakers need youngsters like Ronnie Johnson to become key contributors.

Painter has no doubt they will.

A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot freshman who played last season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, has a propensity for shot-blocking and could help the Boilermakers improve defensively. Donnie Hale, a 6-8 redshirt freshmen, showed up in far better shape this season than last and could have a major role this season.

Raphael Davis, a 6-5 freshman guard, led the Boilermakers in scoring during their summer trip to Italy and could become a key piece if Purdue is going to make another surprise run at a conference title.

Plus, with six players standing at least 6-8, Painter thinks the Boilermakers could give other Big Ten teams a very different look.

``I think we'll be a more traditional, more old-school type of Big Ten basketball team,'' he said. ``If we're not a better rebounding team then we're in trouble.''

But if they can capitalize on their size, the veterans improve and the young guys progress as expected, well, the Boilermakers just might be seeing 2007-08 replay itself all over again.

``Of course they reached a level of success after being underestimated,'' Anthony Johnson said. ``We're a young team, but we can still have great success, too. We look at that as a challenge and a goal.''

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Former Giants OL Mitch Petrus dies of heat stroke at 32

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Former Giants OL Mitch Petrus dies of heat stroke at 32

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Offensive lineman Mitch Petrus, a walk-on at Arkansas who went on to a three-year NFL career that included a Super Bowl win with the New York Giants, has died. He was 32.

Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs said Petrus died of heat stroke Thursday night at a North Little Rock hospital after working outside that day at his family's shop about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Little Rock.

Like much of the country, Arkansas is in the grips of an intense heat wave. In Lonoke County, where Petrus was working, the heat index on Thursday made it feel like it was than 100 degrees (38 Celsius) outside, according to the National Weather Service.

During his college career, Petrus played alongside Razorback greats Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and later earned all-Southeastern Conference honors.

He was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round in 2010 and got into 11 regular-season games his rookie year, with no starts. In his second season, Petrus played in six regular-season games, starting three of them, as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl. He played six games for the Giants the following season before being released. He was picked up by the New England and played two games for the Patriots before being released. Tennessee then signed him and he played two games for the Titans before the team released him the following March.

After retiring from the NFL in 2013, Petrus returned to Arkansas, where he was well-known and often appeared as a studio analyst and sidelines reporter during televised high school football games. He also had an interest in politics, serving as Republican state Sen. Dismang's chief of staff during the Legislature's 2018 session, when Dismang was the chamber's president.

"With his energy and how positive he was, he was just a perfect fit for that session," Dismang said Friday.


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Michael Vick thinks Dwayne Haskins is in the perfect situation with the Redskins

Michael Vick thinks Dwayne Haskins is in the perfect situation with the Redskins

Though Michael Vick was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft, he didn't immediately become the starter. Instead, he spent most of his rookie season watching and getting accustomed to the NFL before assuming the starting job in 2002 and launching his exciting career. 

Rather than being thrown right into the fire, Vick was given time to learn and transition to the pros.

Now the newest No. 7 to enter the league, Dwayne Haskins, could find himself in a similar situation. With only one year of real experience in college, the Redskins could opt to let Haskins continue to adjust from the sideline and work under the veteran passers on the roster. 

To Vick, that path will make the transition much smoother.

"It's not difficult at all when you have an opportunity to sit behind guys like Case Keenum, who has a ton of experience and knows how to play the game. [Or] Colt McCoy," Vick said Friday on The Sports Junkies when asked about how hard the jump to the NFL will be for Haskins.

While Haskins will most likely take the starting role in the long run, Vick is fine with Keenum or McCoy taking the starting spot to begin the season.

Seeing that Haskins could benefit from the tutelage of the quarterback room in a situation where he's not being put under maximum pressure, Vick strongly believes Haskins progression will be better if it comes naturally.

The now-NFL analyst even mentioned that he talked to head coach Jay Gruden at a golf event recently and stated that Gruden told him, "It's going to take some time" with Haskins. That may not be what some fans want to hear, but Vick knows that time behind the veterans may be exactly what Haskins needs.

"It's not like he's been rushed out there to play. He has some time to develop," Vick said. "That's the most important thing for him right now."

"That's very fortunate for Dwayne to be in that position," he added.

Even as a high-profile pick coming into the league Vick's ascension to starter took time, and that decision seemed to work out pretty well for him.

The Redskins have an opportunity to do the same with Haskins, letting him ease into the NFL and take in everything he can from two veterans. According to Vick, it's the perfect scenario for a rookie QB to be in.

"You get to soak up everything, you get to gain the whole experience without having to be under pressure," Vick said. "That makes it extremely easy when you step out there for the first time."