Of Purdue head coach Matt Painter’s five upperclassmen heading into the 2014-15 season just two were scholarship players, with both Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons being juniors. The key word in that last sentence is “were,” because earlier this week Painter rewarded senior Neal Beshears and junior Stephen Toyra with scholarships.
For both players the scholarship represents a reward, not only for their hard work but also for their willingness to step forward as leaders on a team that’s incredibly young. In a story written by Nathan Baird of the Journal & Courier, Beshears discussed the leadership role he’s taken on, something that many walk-ons would be hesitant to do given their role on the team.
“Most (walk-ons), because they don’t play a lot, they’re afraid that if they say something, the guys that play a lot aren’t going to respond to them,” Beshears said. “I think a lot of the guys respect us and respect the walk-ons. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to it helps us influence them as far as doing the right things and playing the right way.”
Leadership for Purdue will be key this coming season, as the Boilermakers lost two of their top three scorers from a team that finished 15-17 overall and 5-13 in Big Ten play. Hammons’ return gives the Boilermakers a solid piece in the middle, but they’re going to need more from sophomores such as Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman if they’re to take a step forward.
Leadership will also be key, and if the players who stand to receive the fewest minutes are willing to step forward maybe that relieves some of the pressure on the players expected to lead the way statistically speaking. It’s never bad to have multiple leaders, especially if they all work to pull the team in the same direction.