Oct. 7, 1997

1997-98 Season Outlook

Try these two simple numbers on for size when considering the 1997-98 prospects for Purdue's men's basketball team: the Boilermakers return 98 percent of their scoring and 96 percent of their rebounding from last year.

Coupled with the facts that last year's squad finished 18-12, tied for second in the Big Ten and gave top-ranked Kansas trouble in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and it's easy to understand why the Old Gold and Black should be highly-ranked entering this campaign. After three straight outright Big Ten championships (1994 through 1996), Purdue used youth (four freshmen among the top seven players) and balance (four players averaged double figure scoring and another was at 9.7) to achieve success in 1996-97. "We always have high expectation here, that's nothing new," says Coach Gene Keady. "The key is staying injury free. Another question is how much our kids improved over the summer, and how important it is to them to win. There's no doubt that we have enough talent to be a very good team. We need good chemistry, togetherness and leadership if we want to be great. If we can do that I think we have the other areas handled. We have good guards and some good big guys."

The team was undefeated (8-0) on a European tour last May, and has come back to win the Big Ten title after each of its three previous summer overseas trips under Keady.

"The European Tour gave us more practice time in the spring after finals," says Keady. "We played eight games over there, which has got to help you. We had four kids try out for the USA team (Chad Austin, Brad Miller, Brian Cardinal, Mike Robinson). It kept them cut-in to good competitive situations. You'd think that's got to help, because they played against great competition all summer. The extra playing time and practices are also beneficial." All five starters and the top two reserves return for Keady, who is six victories shy of passing Ward Lambert as Purdue's all-time winningest basketball coach. A five-time National Coach-of-the-Year, Keady begins his 18th year at the Boiler helm. Boilermaker fans can look forward to more fast-paced action in 1997-98.

"We pressed a lot and ran a lot more on the European Tour," says Keady. "We want to be able to do that but still be smart and get good shots if our break is cut off. We're going to up-tempo it on both ends of the floor."

Seniors Chad Austin and Brad Miller should provide the leadership and bulk of the scoring, but they are joined by four others with starting experience: Brian Cardinal, Alan Eldridge, Robinson and Jaraan Cornell. Plus, Gary McQuay averaged 18 minutes per game off the bench. Austin and Miller have the potential to become one of the best in the country at their respective positions.

Austin, a guard, was first team All-Big Ten and Purdue's Most Valuable Player in 1996-97. An outstanding all-around player, he is one of only three brother combinations (Woody, 1,076 points from 1989-92) in Big Ten history to score 1,000 career points each. Austin, the school's No. 3 all-time three-point shooter, averaged 17 points (19.1 in league games to rank third), 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists last year. He is a deadeye shooter, accurate passer, quick penetrator, strong rebounder and one of the best defenders in the conference. Austin has a team-best 51 career double-figure scoring games, including 27 in 1996-97. He is ranked in the top 25 all-time at Purdue in points (1,100, 25th) and assists (207, T24th).

Miller, a 6-11, 240-pounder, was second team All-Big Ten as a junior when he became the first center in school history to win the team's Assists Award (2.9 average). A versatile inside and outside threat, he averaged 14.3 points and led the team in the following: rebounds (8.3), steals (1.8), blocks (1.5), field goal percentage (.536) and free throw accuracy (.777). Miller, who ranks fourth in Purdue records with 107 all-time blocks, is the only Boiler to ever accumulate 100-plus career blocks and steals. He averaged 24.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in the final three games a year ago, including a career-high 31 points and eight rebounds against Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore forward Brian Cardinal, who would major in hustle and floor burns if possible, started all 30 games last year and averaged 10.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals (the latter two figures were second-best on the team). The gutsy crowd favorite had 51 steals to break Kyle Macy's freshman record for single-season steals (39 in 1975-76). He recorded 16 double-figure scoring games, including a career-best 25 points in Purdue's overtime victory at Indiana.

Sophomore guard Jaraan Cornell is a cool customer who was effective both as a starter and sixth man last year. The left-handed slasher is an solid penetrator, scorer off the dribble and outside shooter. The consistent Cornell averaged 10.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists last season. He had 30 three-point field goals and 46 steals, both marks second all-time for a Purdue frosh.

Sophomore forward Mike Robinson is a good scorer who started 20 times in 1996-97. As the first Purdue freshman to start his initial college game since 1985-86 (Melvin McCants), he was the squad's No. 5 scorer (9.7) and No. 3 rebounder (4.7). An excellent all-around player, Robinson had a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) against No. 1-ranked Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.

Junior Alan Eldridge showed improvement in his first year as Purdue's starting point guard. He was more assertive and productive on the European tour in May. He started 27 times last year, averaging 4.5 points and 2.7 assists (second on the squad). After a slow start, Eldridge had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in Big Ten games (52-35), and sank 42.1 percent of his three-pointers in the league. Sophomore forward Gary McQuay became a sufficient contributor middle despite his 6-8, 200-pound frame. After a summer of weight lifting, he should improve on his averages of 4.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. McQuay is a quick leaper who ranked fourth in the Big Ten in blocks. Extremely talented, McQuay is a versatile player with good post moves as well as three-point range.

The rest of Purdue's roster is dotted with promise but a lack of college experience. Sophomore guards Mosi Barnes and Chad Kerkhof saw limited action in 1996-97, while freshman guard B.J. Carretta was redshirted. Barnes missed several games and a lot of practice time last season after having knee surgery. A year of experience should benefit Barnes, who played in 14 games totaling just 51 minutes. Kerkhof, a walkon, is a hard worker who plays tough defense. An academic All-Big Ten pick in 1996-97, he also was the team's Ward Lambert Academic Award winner for scholastic achievement. Carretta, another walk-on, was a vocal leader for the team last season despite sitting on the sideline. As a senior at Bishop Dwenger High in Fort Wayne, Ind., Carretta averaged 20.1 points and 6.0 assists while leading the Bishops to a 22-4 record and sectional and regional titles. He was named city Player-of-the-Year by most news outlets.

Junior college point guard Tony Mayfield is the lone newcomer. A native of Milwaukee, Wis., Mayfield attend Tyler Junior College in Texas, averaging 11 points and eight assists as a sophomore for the 27-8 Apaches. He shot 48 percent from three-point range and 82 percent from the free throw line. Mayfield was a first team All-Texas Eastern Conference pick and a member of the All-Region 14 team.

Purdue will play 30 regular season games in 1997-98, plus the first-ever Big Ten Conference Tournament in Chicago's United Center March 5-8. The Boilermakers open the season several days earlier than in the past, hosting Long Island on Nov. 14.

"We have the toughest schedule since I've been here," says Keady. "We were rated as having the No. 1 schedule in 1982, and this is tougher than that. It's a schedule that can really help you or it can really hurt you, depending on how many people develop, get better and take pride in what they're doing."

The 16-game Big Ten schedule will determine the league champion, while the tournament winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers will play four teams just once: home games against Northwestern (Jan. 24) and Wisconsin (Jan. 31) and road trips to Michigan (Jan. 29) and Iowa (Feb. 18).

"The Big Ten should be the most unpredictable I've ever seen," says Keady. "I think anybody could win it."

Purdue will compete in the Great Alaska Shootout Nov. 26-29. Only former shootout champions are included in the field. The Boilermakers, who captured the title in 1993, will face Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 26, and the UMass/Southwest Louisiana winner on Nov. 28. Traditional powers North Carolina and UCLA are in the opposite bracket as Purdue.

The Boilermakers will play national runner-up Kentucky for the second straight year in the Great Eight Tournament on Dec. 3 at the United Center. It's Purdue's third appearance in the Great Eight (the Boilers played Missouri in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 1994). Other attractive December matchups include a road trip to Louisville on Dec. 6 and a home matchup against Big East power Providence on Dec. 27. Sandwiched in between is a game with Xavier in the fifth annual Boilermaker BlockBuster in Indianapolis on Dec. 20. Purdue's regular-season schedule includes 14 games in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena, where the Boilermakers have posted an impressive 49-6 (.891) mark the past four seasons. Purdue plays 11 road games and five contests on neutral courts. In addition, the Boilers play two exhibition games in Mackey, Nov. 3 and Nov. 9.

Chad Austin: "He's a versatile athlete who can play either one or two guard. He has a tendency to be a streak shooter, but he's a great player in all phases of the game. He plays offense and defense both very well. He's a player who has gotten better every year because of his work ethic. I'm looking for him to have a great year."

Brad Miller: "He's an excellent passer, a good rebounder, a good scorer from all places on the floor. Brad needs to become more assertive and consistent. If Brad is consistent he will have a great year because he knows and understands the game."

Alan Eldridge: "Alan had a great European Tour in May, and I think that really encouraged the coaches. He's starting to play to the potential that we thought he had. He also can play two guard. Alan, we think, will have a great year. If he does we're probably going to have a pretty good team, because he's a big key to our success."

Brian Cardinal: "Everybody loves him because of his hard work, hard-nosed demeanor. He's a guy who does all the things that other people don't want to do: take charges, dive on the floor and set good screens. He just plays hard every practice."

Mike Robinson: "Mike is going to be a very good player because of his love for the game. He had a rough freshman year, but it seems like he's gotten his act together now. Eventually, I think he's going to be a great player. He's worked hard at his defense to become a good all-around player."

Jaraan Cornell: "Jaraan is an excellent kid to coach because he's going to be there when you need him. Because of our depth at guard he may not start every game, but he'll start some games this year, especially if we play three guards a lot. He has high character standards. He's one of those guys that just plays, and does what the team needs."

Gary McQuay: "Gary is going to have to play the four and five spots, maybe even the three, since we're short on big men this year. We're anticipating Gary playing many minutes. He made great strides on the European Tour. He needs to gain some weight. He's going to be a great asset to this program, and we're looking forward to big things from him.

Mosi Barnes: "I want him to be a great player. When you come in as a freshman point guard you have a lot of pressure on you. When you learn the system and come back your sophomore year usually you're ready. We're expecting big things out of Mosi, and expecting him to play a lot."

Chad Kerkhof: "Chad is a company man. He played well on the European Tour. He is an asset because of his intensity in practice and his loyalty to the program. I'm very proud of Chad."

B.J. Carretta: "We're looking forward to B.J. coming in and being like Todd Foster: hard-nosed, make three-pointers, play hard and be a team guy every day."

Tony Mayfield: "We're anticipating a lot of big things out of him. We're looking for his stability. He's a very solid player, and that's what we need out of him -- especially his leadership."

Carson Cunningham: "We're excited about Carson because he was on the All-Freshman Team in the Pac-10. That's really a great compliment to him. We're glad he's a part of our program now, and we're looking forward to him helping us in practice. We think he's going to be a great player when he gets eligible."