My Two Cents: Purdue's Freshmen Still Deserve Time to Grow

Purdue's dynamic freshman class has taken the Big Ten by storm this season, but they aren't going to be great every night, and fans need to learn to accept that.
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – We live in a world of immediacy now. If we can't get our news or send a message or microwave our dinner in less than two minutes, the world might end. Patience is no longer a virtue.

It's true in sports too, of course. It's been fun watching this freshman class of Purdue basketball players grow right before our eyes. Four of them – Jaden Ivey, Brandon Newman, Zach Edey and Mason Gillis – have all won a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award this season. Ivey and Newman have two. They've been special, and to be frank, they've been special a bit ahead of schedule.

And when they did great things early, it was interesting to watch the Purdue fan base embrace them, praise them, congratulate them. They were loving it, and dreaming of all the big things that were going to happen down the road. This is another batch of "Baby Boilers.'' 

But freshmen are freshmen, and big moments aren't easily repeated. Brandon Newman can score 29 points one night, but then get just 3 and 5 points in the Boilers' next two losses. And fans go to social media and rip him for disappearing.

Jaden Ivey can hit a game-winning shot to beat a very good Ohio State team, but when he misses a few shots and makes some bad decisions the following week, now all of a sudden he's "selfish.'' "all about himself,'' "trying to be a hero,'' and a few other unrepeatables.

Patience runs thin, that's for sure. But that's just wrong.

Freshman Jaden Ivey has had several magical moments for  the Boilermakers already this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Freshman Jaden Ivey has had several magical moments for  the Boilermakers already this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

We have all learned a long time ago to ignore social media comments like that, and the players certainly never read them. They care what their coaches say, what their teammates say, and that's enough. They don't care what Jake from Logansport tweets.

It's all part of the growing process, and it's been that way forever. Carryover effect is a figment of most imaginations. One good game doesn't guarantee another one, especially when opponents watch film too, and take things away.

I asked Matt Painter about that on Tuesday, about how it's one thing to learn from mistakes as a young player, but how important it is to learn from success as well.

That's real, too, he said. Very real.

"No question, that's a big one,'' Painter said. "When you're young, that's a byproduct of youth. You think when you play well that it's going to carry over to the next game, and that's not the way it works. It's kind of like shooting. Just because you hit six threes in one game doesn't mean the next game you're automatically hot.

"Sometimes they force things – not sometimes, they DO force things — and they just don't trust the process. It really comes down to the understanding of taking what the defense gives you, executing what we're trying to do and understanding that you don't have to do everything yourself.''

Ivey's basketball career is full of alpha-dog moments. The 6-foot-4 guard from South Bend, Ind., is quick with the ball in his hands, and he can attack the basket. He's also a good shooter, even though his three-point percentage (18.5 percent) doesn't show it. Not yet, anyway. 

"I say 'keep shooting,' '' Ivey said Tuesday. "We got good looks (in the loss to Minnesota last Thursday), so you just have to keep shooting and eventually they will fall.''

Painter has said often that he has good shooters, but they just aren't making shots. That's why it doesn't upset him when guys have open looks but miss. It's not the shot selection that's a problem, it's the shot execution

What Painter has loved about this freshman class is that they put in the work. They work on things that need improving, he said, but they also work on things they're good at. It's all about getting better, in every facet of their game.

"Talented guys have that burden on them sometimes, that they have to do it all,'' he said. "They're always on the hunt, and that's a good thing that they're being aggressive, but they also have to understand what the defense is giving them and make the simple play. When they do that and play off their instincts, that's usually when they have more success.''

Ivey has learned that.

"I think as far as my ability to get to the basket, it's improving game by game and it's only going to keep getting better,'' he said. "It's the same with my three-point percentage. I know I can shoot, and I'll take the threes that are given to me in the offense.''

Ivey has made some mistakes down the stretch in the narrow losses to Maryland and Minnesota, where Purdue let late leads slip away in games they should have won. (You can read all about it in social media.) A couple of times he's attacked the basket and was double-teamed – or worse – and didn't have a good back-up plan. Those poor decisions are magnified in the final few minutes, of course, and Ivey knows better.

It's all about being smarter, and learning from your experiences. And a possession in the first half matters as much as a late-game possession.

"I think I've learned that every possession matters throughout the whole game,'' Ivey said. "We had some early possession where we turned the ball over or missed a defensive assignment and that comes back to hurt you. We need to lock in on every detail.''

Which brings us to the home stretch now, the final three weeks of the regular season. The freshmen will still a major impact on how this season turns out, and that starts Tuesday night at home against Michigan State. 

"This game we have another opportunity to show that we're one of the elite in the Big Ten,'' Ivey said. "We're all motivated after the way we lost to Minnesota.''

Purdue is 13-8 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, good for sixth place right now. Purdue would love to finish in the top-four, which gets them a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. To do that, they'll need to pass Iowa (9-5) and Wisconsin (9-6), and that means winning twice this week, Tuesday night against Michigan State and Saturday at Nebraska. (Iowa and Wisconsin play each other Thursday.)

Ethan Morton's freshman season was slowed by mono back in the fall. (USA TODAY Sports)

Ethan Morton's freshman season was slowed by mono back in the fall. (USA TODAY Sports)

Ivey will play a role, and Newman will, too. Mason Gillis will continue to be steady at the four and Edey will continue to play quality minutes in the post when Trevion Williams needs a break. 

And don't be surprised if Ethan Morton, the fifth freshman, contributes some big moments down the stretch, too. He was expected to play a role similar to the others this year, but he got mono right before the season started, and he's been playing catch-up ever since.

It's been unfortunate.

"He obviously got the short end of things for having to go through the mono,'' Painter said. "Like Sasha (Stefanovic), what he had to go through with COVID wasn't fair, and with Ethan, going through mono wasn't fair. But it's part of dealing with it and going through it. And for him, he got to play a lot right away because we had two guys who were out, but he had no practice time. That piece of it was like, as a coach you're just appreciative that he did all he could to help us.

"He just hasn't gotten enough minutes to really get going and that's what you want. You want to be able to play more and feel more comfortable out there. He's a worker, puts in a lot of time, watches extra film and he's always ready to go when his number is called.''

Painter is pleased with where Morton is at, but it's also a tough backcourt to crack right now.

"He's done some good things. He's getting better, and he's working on things,'' Painter said. "It happens with depth, but it also happens with your start, too, like getting off to a good start when you're out there.

"It's hard when you get into numbers because we have six guards and that gets a little difficult.''

I have no doubt this class is going to do some special things during their time in West Lafayette. So take a deep breath, Boiler fans, and remember how young they all are. Sure, they're going to make some mistakes, but you have to live with a few of them. 

They're learning as they go, and that's on you, Boiler fans, to do the same thing.

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