College Basketball

New faces join fortified front as Purdue basketball begins practice

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) — The Purdue Boilermakers basketball team was back Tuesday in Mackey Arena for the first official practice of the 2022-23 season.

Center Zach Edey watched from the sideline as he remains in concussion protocol after an offseason injury. But Purdue is confident he will return quickly. In the meantime, head coach Matt Painter started breaking in the new players.

“We have a lot of work to do but we’re excited about it. We have a very high skill level. There are a lot of people on our team that can shoot the basketball,” Painter said.

Purdue returns only two starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team — Edey and forward Mason Gillis. Edey’s return is big for the Boilermakers — pun intended.

“Man, he’s huge. He’s a force. And it’s not just for show either,” Utah transfer David Jenkins Jr. said. “You get on the court with him, and he’s taking up like four different guys. I’m excited to play with him.”

“We’re playing through him. Nobody really in the country can stop him,” Gillis said. “If they want to play him one on one, he’s been told to score the ball and he knows what to do with that. And then if they choose to double him, he knows to kick it out, too.”

“We have a very talented front court. I really feel like we have one of the best front courts in the country,” Painter said. “I really like our guard play. We just don’t have a great deal of experience together, and that’s where we have to work.”

The front court might be an established fortress, but what about the back court? There are a lot of new faces to mix and match – which is exactly what Painter says he’s still figuring out. One early shining star has been Westfield native and last year’s Mr. Basketball Braden Smith, who’s already in the conversation for starting point guard.

“He’s a very intelligent player. He’s got a good savvy about him. He’s got a really good feel. He’s got a high competitive spirit. He competes. Basketball’s important to him,” Painter said.

“He’s got a great feel for the game,” guard Brandon Newman said. “He’s such a good passer, and that’s so much fun as a scorer to play with someone like that.”

Even with all the new faces, this Purdue team is already meshing.

“I’ve been a part of teams where we’re winning, and honestly, it’s because of how connected we were and how much we hung out off the court,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s something I’ve seen early on with this team.”

Boilers tip off the season against Milwaukee November 8 in West Lafayette.