WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue men's and women's basketball players lounged in the cushy leather seats near the new Mackey Arena court on Monday during Media Day interviews.
The $100 million renovation is nearly complete, and players for both teams believe they have the substance to match the style. They didn't hesitate to talk about goals of winning the Big Ten title and making deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
The men are excited, despite losing JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore to the NBA draft. Star forward Robbie Hummel is back after missing last season with a torn ACL, and seniors Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson return to add experience. The Boilermakers went 26-8 last season and won a game in the NCAA tournament.
"I think we have the potential to win the Big Ten and make a run at the Final Four," Hummel said. "You can call me biased because I'm on the team, but I really do think that we have the talent, and I think we can really surprise people with the way we play and guard."
Because Johnson and Moore combined to average nearly 40 points per game last season, the Boilermakers sense that expectations from the public are lower. That's fine with Smith, the team's captain.
"We're not playing with a target on our back, from what I've seen and what I've heard from the ratings and all that," he said. "I think we're going to surprise some people."
Jackson is the top returning scorer at 8.0 points per game, including a 10.2 average in conference play.
Smith shot 47 percent from 3-point range in conference play. D.J. Byrd started 22 games last season, and Kelsey Barlow, the team's top reserve last season, is also back.
Everybody returns for the women's team that went 21-12 and won a game in the NCAA tournament. Top scorer Brittany Rayburn averaged 14.4 points last season.
Drey Mingo, who had a bout with bacterial meningitis last season, is back at full strength and ready to go. She averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. She believes the team bonded through her ordeal, and that closeness will help the Boilermakers accomplish their goals.
"We got back to the tournament last year, but we're not settling," Mingo said. "We want to push it farther than the second round. We definitely want to do that, and we're working toward that."
Coach Sharon Versyp said the team has the right attitude to get there.
"I would have to say that this group, in the five years that I've been here, are the hardest working group of ladies that I've had," she said. "I think that's just part of the mindset and the understanding of what we want to do here."
Versyp said the team has the talent and athletic ability to cause problems for some of the nation's top teams.
"I think the biggest thing is the run and jump, playing full court and man-to-man and making full court pressure be very, very chaotic and making somebody play so up tempo that they're taking quick shots or bad shots," she said.
The women's team has a rugged schedule that includes a trip to Duke and home games against national finalists Notre Dame and Texas A&M. Point guard K.K. Houser likes the challenges in front of the Boilermakers.
"If we would have had a bunch of easy teams we were going to walk all over, it wasn't going to benefit us any," she said. "Playing teams like that are going to let us know where we're at and where we stand at that point in time."
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