Purdue’s Williams, Edey gaining preseason attention

By Kenny Thompson

At this time a year ago, nothing was expected from a 7-4 Canadian center who was ranked the 440th best high school basketball prospect in the 2020 class by

Zach Edey, as anyone who follows Purdue basketball knows by now, played more like the 40th best high school prospect as a freshman. Edey averaged 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds a game as the backup to Trevion Williams a year ago.

This week, Edey was one of 20 players named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list. The Abdul-Jabbar Award is presented annually to the nation’s top center.

It’s likely Edey’s reputation was enhanced by his performance for Canada in this summer’s U19 World Cup. Edey averaged 15.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

Curiously, Williams – likely Purdue’s starting center for the exhibition opener Nov. 4 against Indianapolis – is one of 20 players on the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, given to the nation’s best power forward.

Another link between Edey and Williams also centers on recruiting rankings. Williams, who starred at Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn, Mich., was ranked 154th in the Class of 2018 and was overlooked to his eternal regret by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

There were no such things as recruiting rankings in 1976, when Purdue assistant coach George Faerber received a tip about a 7-foot center playing for Denver East High School. His name? Joe Barry Carroll.

If there were rankings back then, it’s likely Carroll would not have been a Top 100 recruit.

Carroll is the only Boilermaker to record a triple-double with 16 points, 16 rebounds and a school record 11 blocked shots in a victory against Arizona in 1977.

Carroll led the Boilermakers to the 1980 Final Four, earning first-team All-America honors, and was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

There also is the story of Brian Cardinal, who was so overlooked 25 years ago that Illinois passed on the 6-8 forward despite the fact his father was the basketball team’s trainer. Cardinal paid back coach Lou Henson by leading Purdue to an 8-0 record against the Fighting Illini during his career. Cardinal played 12 seasons in the NBA, earning a championship ring with the Dallas Mavericks.

Edey isn’t the first big man to seemingly come out of nowhere under Matt Painter. Perhaps the most disliked Boilermaker since Cardinal by Indiana fans, Matt Haarms, was ranked No. 352 in the Class of 2017.

The database goes back to 1999, during which time Matt Painter has landed one five-star recruit, 2015 Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan. While the recruiting services have gotten some rankings right (E’Twaun Moore at No. 25), Edey isn’t the exception to the rule in Purdue basketball recruiting.

Dakota Mathias, the “Midwestern Cowboy”, was ranked 218th in the Class of 2014. He went on to beat the odds as a 1,000-point scorer at Purdue and had a brief stint with the Houston Rockets.

Ask Tennessee fans if former Carmel star Ryan Cline was better than his No. 159 ranking in 2015. Almost a decade earlier, Chris Kramer also was ranked No. 159 coming out of Huntington. Today that seems pretty low for a future two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Zionsville’s Isiah Thompson was ranked the 211th best high school recruit in 2019. That’s nine spots better than classmate Mason Gillis, a starter at forward a year ago for Purdue after a long recovery from a knee injury suffered during his high school days at New Castle.

Thompson has bragging rights on his elder brother P.J., who brought a No. 354 ranking to Purdue in 2014 from Brebeuf. Thompson ended up a three-year starter for Matt Painter.

Starting guard Sasha Stefanovic has exceeded his No. 374 ranking in 2017. Forty percent shooters from 3-point range – which Stefanovic was as a junior – don’t grow on trees.

So there’s plenty of precedent that another lowly regarded (by the 247 Sports rankings) Purdue basketball recruit, Westfield senior guard Braden Smith, will prosper as a Boilermaker. The Mr. Basketball contender is currently ranked No. 277 in the Class of 2022.

Honors pouring in

The latest of many preseason honors, and expectations, for Purdue basketball came on Wednesday when CBS Sports ranked three Boilermakers among the nation’s top 30 players.

Only Gonzaga matched Purdue with three players in CBS Sports’ Top 30. CBS Sports also picked Purdue to win the Big Ten championship over Michigan.

Trevion Williams was the highest-ranked Boilermaker at No. 6.

“The Boilermakers can be great. It starts with Williams, who has diligently built out a great college career the way we used to see so often from players a generation or two (or three) ago.”

Sophomore guard Jaden Ivey is 23rd.

“Ivey is a human firecracker whose game sizzles and pops with unmatched pizzazz. A true difference-maker.”

Zach Edey is 30th, which seems low to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander.

“Mark my words: Edey will be playing like a borderline All-American and be the 1B to Trevion Williams’ 1A for Purdue by the time the NCAA Tournament starts. At 7-4, Edey is going to be the biggest of all the great big men in the Big Ten.”

Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis was ranked eighth but if I’m a Hoosier fan, this sentence from the CBS Sports story would worry me: “If he can expand his

shooting range, Jackson-Davis could be the most difficult player to defend in college basketball.”

CBS Sports also named Matt Painter its preseason Coach of the Year.

“The long underrated Purdue coach is now getting his due as the Boilermakers enter the 2021-22 season with a roster capable of competing for the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1980.

“Last season, Painter guided a team relying heavily on four freshmen to a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That young team is a veteran group now, with basically every key contributor back and a pair of four-star freshmen joining the mix. In the era of mass transfers, this roster’s combination of continuity, depth and star power is a testament to Painter’s chops as a coach as he enters his 17th season leading his alma mater.

“Painter is a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year winner, and he won the NABC National Coach of the Year honor in 2019. Yet, he still seems undervalued nationally, perhaps in part because he’s locked in at his alma mater and hasn’t reached a Final Four. But don’t be surprised if he adds to his awards collection this season and cements his place as an elite coach within the sport’s changing vanguard. …

Ivey has been ranked the No. 2 shooting guard in college basketball by The Athletic. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang was rated No. 1.

“This is betting the combination of his talent, age (now a sophomore) and a great supporting cast are going to lead to a monster season for both player and team.

The Athletic also ranked Trayce Jackson-Davis and Trevion Williams among the top five college basketball centers. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme heads that list.

“When he’s on the floor, he’s devastating,” The Athletic wrote of the fifth-ranked Williams.

Jackson-Davis is at No. 4: “Jackson-Davis was already one of the better big men in the country a year ago, without a strong tactical system around him. If he finally has some space to play in, and a right hand to finish with, he’s going to be a monster.” …

Ivey is a unanimous selection by the media to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Preseason Player of the Year Kofi Cockburn of Illinois, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Michigan center Hunter Dickenson and Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell also were unanimous choices.

Trevion Williams also was selected to the team. …

Purdue is ranked seventh in the preseason coaches Top 25 poll, matching the ranking in The Associated Press poll released a week ago.

The Boilermakers are 48 points behind No. 6 Michigan. Gonzaga, UCLA, Kansas, Villanova and Texas complete the top five.

Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Cou­rier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.