Taking The Next Step: A Plan

We've been here before as a fanbase...on the cusp of greatness, a step from the precipice of something large.

My memories as a Purdue fan go back pretty far...or not far at all, depending on your perspective. I've been a fan since my Dad brainwashed me in the mid-70s by exposing me to the old gold and black every chance he could...but chose to do so sometimes in the early-80s...and I know this feeling.

My favorite team is good...pretty-damned good, actually. I can almost smell, taste and touch the elusive "next step". But, I can do nothing to help achieve it, quite honestly. In this case, it comes down to Matty and his boys.

So what do they need to do to get to the Final Four, or dare I say it, become National Champs? I think we all have opinions, but here's what I see as the keys:

The Frontcourt is priority one.
I'm not saying it's impossible without him, but a ton less-likely. So JJ's gotta return...but return with resolve. We've seen a dominant 25 and an apathetic one...sometimes in the same game, and that up and down play has gotta go...for lots of reasons. I'm not saying the guy can't have an off game, but I am saying neither he, nor his teammates can afford Johnson playing soft, accepting 20-foot jumpers without anybody under to rebound, or simply watching as Hummel makes the glass squeaky clean.

He knows it and so do his competitors- His frame sometimes makes it hard for him to hold his ground. But, his biggest limitation isn't the broadness of his shoulders, instead, it's inside his ribcage. He's dominated some great big men...and been dominated by Tom Pritchard. That should NEVER happen. After his Frosh year, I was hoping to see him bulk up...prior to his Senior year, I don't think anyone is expecting that. But J, it's time to get mad. Let me just say, I think it's great that you're a nice guy. I'm positive I'd like you off the court. But on, it might be time to create a straw man- an enemy that doesn't exist...and level him each and every game. We know you've got it in you.

Next up, his proteges are a key to success. Sandi Marcius needs to work on his footwork, I'm told...but that's conjecture as I've never seen him play. He's a bit like Batman...his legend is great, his figure is imposing...but he's surrounded in mystery. His size makes him an easy candidate for the team goon or enforcer...but, I think we might have the wrong guy- I'll get to that in a second. But, I think it's fair to be excited to see Marcius finally suited up.

Patrick Bade, in my opinion, can play the goon next year. He's not as big as Marcius, but, he's an ex-football player, so he's hit some people...And I got faith in this guy. We've seen flashes of what he can be, although brief...but there's reason to believe. Hit the weights hard, Patrick, pack on some football weight, watch some old tapes of the guy that earned schollie offers from bigtime programs, and shock everybody (except me). I think he has a real chance to be an impact player, especially on the glass, in '10/'11.

Travis Carroll- Love his size and touch...but think, unless the protein powder and time in Mollenkopf "take", he might need a redshirt year. I'm not saying it's a done deal, but to me, it seems likely. That said, if I was Painter, I wouldn't redshirt any of the bigs as depth underneath is imperative on the stretch run.

Donnie Hale is a bit of an X-Factor. First off, we don't even know if he'll be at Purdue next year as there might not be a scholarship open for him if someone doesn't leave...but I just feel that somehow, he'll be playing for Purdue next season...and I actually think he'll be significant for the team. He's a bit of a tweener as he's built like JJ, but isn't as tall...is nearly the same height as the Ostrich, but isn't quite as skilled. So as a five-tool, he might back up different guys in different situations. And his athleticism will help him in this foreign role.

Now, onto the backcourt
I'll start closer to the basket with our pal, Ostrich. If anyone sees Rob, tell him, "take it easy." You can't give that request to every player on the mend, but you can to Rob...because you know he won't. I don't want him rushing back too, too quickly, and think that Shelborn's staff will make sure he doesn't put himself in the position to hurt something around the repaired ligament as he pushes himself...But, I can't wait to see him back on the court...but I can guarantee that all of his competition is even more-grateful that this is his last season in West Lafayette. Here's to seeing a complete season from November to April without any major setbacks. I'm sure his family and friends will be praying for him- that might be the best thing for him right now.

I have a dream that Kelsey Barlow will be able to back up Hummel next year...and I think this dream has legs, when you look at the positional riches. But, to back up Hummel, Kelsey's gotta work on his J. That and free throws are the key to what impact he'll have offensively in the next season. As we've all seen with Hummel, a player in this position can get rich if he hits the undefensible 15-footers. We all know he has some natural tools- length, athleticism...and I actually think he might still grow a bit before he's done in West Lafayette...Have you seen his pops?

Smooge- Hope you're reading this- You can be better. Yeah, I said it.

Look at what this guy has done since he got to Purdue- he's quietly become one of the best defenders on the team, developed a bunch of different ways to kill his opponent...and he knows, there's more left in the tank...and bigger than that, there's a ton of fuel in the lower abdomen. I saw some glimpses of the fire this guy has, and I like it. If he can use that to fuel him this summer...uh oh, BT opponents.

And speaking of mean SOBs, DJ Byrd, come on down! You're the guy that I'm stoked to see with a year of experience under his belt more than anybody. I think he'll become a guy who dives for loose balls and leads the charge when the team needs a spark and ain't skerrrrrrred of anybody. Atop that, he can make it rain like Seattle in the springtime. Keep the head shaved DJ, I think it works.

Instant offense: a three-prong approach. Ryne Smith from behind the arc (work on your nerves, my man...and show us what everyone sees in practice), John Hart creating his own shot and loosening up tough defensive teams, and Anthony Johnson from anywhere. I see Johnson making some big, key shots late in the season, but am not going to ask too much from him initially...but this dude can fill. Hopefully, he can pack on some weight as the pounding of the BT, especially the way Matty will demand him to play defense, is going to take some physical maturity.

The 2-headed point guard monster will be fun to watch. And before you tell me that Terone Johnson is a scorer, I know he is. In fact, I think he might start at shooting guard. But, I think he can back up Jackson from time-to-time too...and I think that frees up Barlow, which I like. Sure, it'll probably be a combo of the three running the point, but a healthy LewJack will probably do the lion's share of the bidding. I love the problem Matty's going to have in the backcourt...just too much talent, not enough positions or minutes.

It's almost like we're seeing the program in the best position it's been in for a decade or more...kinda like it's been designed to happen this way- That's because it has. And in my opinion, if these guys can stick together while busting their collective ass this offseason, the road, undeniably leads back to Reliant Stadium to complete the unfinished business...of not just this past season, but the past 30.

Fire Your Agent, Jimmy

Augusta People Think They're Bastion of Morals