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November 13, 2006For such an energetic, bouncy personality, sitting out a whole season must have been agonizing for Gordon Watt.
Being suspended for Purdue's two exhibition games this season probably wasn't ideal, either.
But the former Boston College transfer showed he might be worth the wait for Purdue Monday night.
In his Boilermaker debut, the versatile sophomore, who'll play primarily in the post, made his presence felt. He grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, with three steals, and exhibited a great deal of much-needed aggressiveness and energy.
"I'm just happy to play," said Watt, who redshirted last season because of transfer rules but even then spent most of the season recovering from surgeries. "When Coach recruited me, he brought me here to bring energy.
"I have a lot of passion for the game. I want to play. I've been sitting on the bench observing for a year-plus, and I just wanted to make my impact on the game."
He did that, defensively and offensively, where he chipped in 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting, with a three-pointer.
With Purdue thin in the post, Watt is expected to see major minutes in the paint.
Coach Matt Painter started Watt Monday night of hopes of him helping on the boards. He did.
"I don't think he's going to be a guy who leads us in rebounding," Painter said. "We need Carl Landry to do that. We need him to be a better rebounder for us."
Landry had four rebounds in 23 minutes. Painter wants him to average 10.
Illustrating the difference between this season and last was Purdue's opening day starting five, which didn't include a single player who played beyond the fifth game of last season.
To open the 2006-07 season, Painter opted to start Watt for the sake of rebounding and point guard Tarrance Crump in hopes of applying maximum defensive pressure.
They joined seniors David Teague and Landry and freshman guard Chris Kramer.
Crump didn't start either of Purdue's two exhibition games; Watt didn't play in either of them.
During the preseason, freshman Keaton Grant started both games, but was replaced at point guard by Crump, for defensive purposes.
The rookie certainly wasn't adversely impacted by the demotion.
"He responded in a positive manner," Painter said.
Grant scored 12 points and grabbed four steals.
"I'm just going to do whatever Coach wants me to do," Grant said.
As for the new - in more ways than one - starting five, it's only natural that it might take some time for it to truly gel, Teague said, though the fivesome might not be set in stone just yet.
"I think it's going to take a little time, but as long as guys come to work in practice, it'll make it easier in games," Teague said. " If you go hard in practice, games are that much easier."
As noted, Crump earned the start due to the defensive presence his quickness and speed allow him to be.
Crump had one steal Monday night, leading to a breakaway layup, but Painter agreed with the assessment that his disruptiveness can lead to other turnovers.
"When you play this way, you harp on them, 'Do not reach.' You want disciplined pressure," Painter said. "But he's so quick that at times, he will go take the ball from you. He's also so quick that he can make that mistake, but when he doesn't get it, he can still get back in the play when the other guys can't."
After shooting inconsistently in the exhibition season, Teague rebounded nicely in the first one that counted.
He was 5-of-10 from the floor, 3-of-6 from long range, with 13 points, three rebounds and two steals.
Teague said that during the preseason, he was just getting his legs back under him after sitting out last season with a knee injury. His priority last week was improving on defense.
"From the first exhibition game to the second, I got a lot better on defense," Teague said. "I took another step toward getting back to where I want to be defensively. As long as I do that and get rebounds, the offense will take care of itself."
Freshman center Dan Vandervieren, far and away Purdue's biggest body, was sidelined by a sprained ankle.
He'd have come in handy against the Golden Bears. Six-9, 250-pound Kirk Archibeque, who had 15 points, was a troublesome matchup.
"We need Dan," Painter said. "We need Dan to be healthy and to get in shape. He has to give us some depth on that front line."
Painter hopes to see Vandervieren back in practice Wednesday. The team has Tuesday off.
Purdue has four "post" players -Landry, Watt, Johnathan Uchendu and Vandervieren - but has yet to play a game with all four of them available.
Perhaps because of Vandervieren's absence, new walk-on/practice player A.J. Graft dressed for the game.
Uchendu is certainly raw as a player, but he's shown an almost veteran-like savvy with his hook shot, one of basketball's lost arts.
Against Northern Colorado Monday night, the skinny 6-foot-10 rookie knocked down two of them. On one, he stepped toward the baseline with an Olajuwan-like ball-fake, before spinning backward and knocking down the right-handed shot from a couple feet away.
"That's the only thing he has," Painter joked. "But he is comfortable shooting that jump hook over his right shoulder. That's his move, and we tell him, 'Unless they force you, don't go away from it,' because that's what he's comfortable with."
Uchendu also knocked down a mid-range jump shot against UNC in chipping in 10 points, all in the second half.
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