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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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.


He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.


Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.



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