Destination: Houston?

JJ is back. So now the countdown to the biggest season of expectation in Purdue basketball in the past 30+ years begins. I guess we could argue about whether there's more anticipation for this team or the '88 or '94 teams, but I doubt the hype and excitement was as high this early.

About a week after JJ declared he was going to toss his name into the draft, we'd been hearing lots of various opinions and I just didn't have a good feeling. Neither boilerdowd or I had said anything about what we thought yet to each other, much less on the site. So I figured someone had to face reality and I sent him an email, saying:

"I think he's gone."

It was like ripping off a band-aid. It hurt somewhat, but it had to be acknowledged. We were all hoping it wouldn't come to pass, but stripping away our desires, what was most likely? I felt like he was gone, for multiple reasons.

I expected b-dowd to come back with a slightly different response, perhaps to try to talk me off the ledge, etc. But he didn't. His reply came back almost immediately:

"I think so, too."

Damn. It definitely felt like things were tilting in that direction. We continued to not express this feeling on the site or anywhere else publicly because we wanted optimism. We just weren't there. And then JJ began to turn back towards the possibility of coming back, with him finalizing things this morning. And it was a wonderful little nugget to hear this morning that he was officially back. Brings a smile to my face to think that, for the first time in a while, things have broken in our favor as Purdue fans.

We would not have begrudged JJ had he decided to go for the cash grab. You have to do what's right for you and your family. And seeing what happened to Rob this year, well, if you had a chance to get paid and knew another year of college ball could mean that could happen to you before you get paid... well, like I said, we couldn't possibly hold it against the young man if he chose to leave.

But he isn't leaving. He's carefully weighed his options for a while and now he and E'Twaun are coming back to join Rob as "the most experienced and productive trio returning of any power-six club."

I would say the Boilermakers have an outside shot at a preseason #1 ranking next year. And even if they don't get it, they're surely be top 3. Which means a strong start could lead to the Boilers being #1 in the nation for the first time in many, many years.

The only thing that concerns me at this early juncture (and granted, this is a good thing to have to deal with) is the weight of expectations on this team. They are indeed going to be thinking "Final Four or Bust" from the very start. It'll be on the shoulders of Matty and the seniors to keep the minds of the team in the games they need to win just to get into a good position to make a run. Games in November and December must be won, too. And with WVU, 'bama and a road game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge looming early, it hopefully will be easy to stay focused. But you never know.

As I said, this is a good problem to have. It'll also be interesting to see how the young guys deal with the presumably increased scrutiny of the national media. It can be a good thing, as there probably won't be a more hyped season in their college careers.

In any event, there is a lot of time between now and mid-November. And just under 11 months from the Final Four in Houston. Let's hope E'Twaun has a chance to wear a cowboy hat again.

Getting Real: Big Ten Growing

I'm going to go ahead and call it: JJ to Return