Boiler freshmen beating the learning curve

Purdue's young players are making contributions early in their career.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Whether it's in the classroom, in the dorm or on the playing surface, there is quite a learning curve for young college basketball players.

While Purdue has yet to dive into the real teeth of its 2013-2014 schedule, the Boilermakers' youth movement is slowly but surely starting to figure it out.

Free throw shooting, when to launch 3-pointers, team defense and time and score thinking often require experience to sort out.

In Wednesday night's relatively easy 83-55 victory against Eastern Illinois, a place where Matt Painter once cut his coaching teeth as an assistant, Boilermaker redshirt freshman Jay Simpson and freshmen Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman combined for 43 points, 21 rebounds and five steals, making a collective 14 of 27 field goal attempts.

For the most part, each defended well, and each certainly brought energy right from the get-go, when Purdue (4-0) raced out to a 12-0 lead and never was really threatened.

Scott was aggressive with 14 points and six rebounds, and Stephens' three second-half 3-pointers allowed Purdue to pull away.

There have been two blowouts and two nail-biters in the Boilermakers' first four games, but it has provided a solid backdrop for adjustments to a learning curve that exits for any player who was a star in high school and is trying to fit in and help his college team win in any way he can.

"For me, it's taking it game to game, just trying to get ready for the Big Ten," Stephens said. "Coach Painter and the whole staff have a lot of trust in me. It helps my confidence knowing that they believe in me and what I can do. There is a learning curve, but it's not something I can't overcome, but it's something that I always will work on."

Not only did Scott have to adjust to living in a new city away from friends and family, he is adjusting to sharing point guard duties in his learning curve after being a dynamic scorer at Fort Wayne's Northrop High School.

"It was a new learning curve for me, because I had to come in and learn to play point guard," Scott said. "That's not what I am used to. I am just trying to learn as much as I can from Ronnie Johnson and his experience from last year and try to pick up everything I can from Painter and all the coaches."

Painter appreciates that while this young team continues to make mistakes, it is trying to come to grips with how the college basketball learning curve should be handled.

"The one thing you try to do with guys, especially younger guys, is try to get them to not play through their shooting," Painter said. "We struggled shooting the basketball beyond the arc, especially in the first half, and you just can't let it bother you.

"That is something we have to keep working on with those guys, especially just taking as many good shots as possible. Don't hang your hat on your shooting. You have to stick with the constants of running, rebounding, defending and just playing hard."

Sophomore teammate Ronnie Johnson battled the learning curve as a Purdue freshman. He likes the mature approach with which redshirt freshman Simpson along with Scott, Stephens and Smotherman have tackled that same barrier, which can prevent a player from finding a role and the minutes he desires.

"They have been bringing a lot of help," Ronnie Johnson said of the four freshmen. "Just not in the game but in practice also. That is why coach Painter recruited these guys. He knew that they would help us with scoring and defense. They have been doing a pretty good job with that."

Doing a good job with college basketball's learning curve is not easy. Painter's collection of young learners, however, appear to be passing their early season tests.

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