A few years back in 2013 it looked like Purdue and Matt Painter landed quite the haul, amassing a recruiting class that included three different four-star recruits (per Rivals). The last recruit to commit to the program was forward Basil Smotherman, the 20th best small forward in his class and 112th best prospect overall.
For Smotherman it’s been an interesting ride the past year or so. The 6’6” wing immediately saw playing time in West Lafayette, averaging just under 16 minutes per game in his first two seasons. However, heading into 2015-16 he was faced with the dilemma of limited minutes due to the emergence of Vince Edwards and the addition of five star recruit Caleb Swanigan. This led to the interesting decision of taking a redshirt last season, saving a year of eligibility instead of being relegated to a limited role.
I mentioned shortly afterward that the move, while making sense to some extent, had potential to be a bit of a weird decision when you realize there was a solid possibility that the two forwards ahead of him could very well return in 2016-17. Even worse, I speculated of the possibility that this could eventually lead to a potential transfer as a grad student if his role doesn’t increase heading forward. It’d be an interesting development, especially since it would mean the entire 2013 recruiting class (Bryson Scott, Kendall Stpehens) would technically have left early via transfer.
All in all while Smotherman maintained a year of eligibility (he has two remaining), the main reason for the decision is still relevant and could once again limit his playing time this winter. While A.J. Hammons is off in the NBA, the Boilermakers have an experienced junior in Isaac Haas to hold things down at the five. That will allow Caleb Swanigan to once again play the four, while Vince Edwards can hover at the three/four spot and round out the front court. The loss of Rapheal Davis, a defensive leader for the Boilers, does create a void on the roster and could be Smotherman’s best bet to see minutes this season.
"I feel the pressure now that Davis is gone. With Davis gone, that does kinda hurt us...I learned from him just by watching him practice everyday and it's just going to help me a better defender and we'll see how it goes," Smotherman told the Purdue Exponent.
Smotherman has proven to be quite the athletic player for Purdue in his first two seasons and if he can blossom into a quality defender on the wing he could find himself in a potential sixth man role, though minutes there could be somewhat hampered if Purdue turns to Dakota Mathias or Ryan Cline as an additional shooting threat instead. And of course, further complicating manners is the fact that Basil is likely in Matt Painter’s doghouse, getting himself suspended for the beginning of the season.
While there are questions if Smotherman will see increased playing time, with the most likely scenario being his minutes returning to where they were his first two seasons, it’s a particularly more challenging scenario for Purdue sophomore Jacquil Taylor.
The three-star center was a part of an extremely important 2014 recruiting class that also brought in Haas, Edwards, Mathias and point guard P.J. Thompson. Taylor, considered to be a somewhat raw prospect heading in, ended up taking a medical redshirt in 2014-15 due to a nagging injury from high school, playing only 42 minutes early in the year. While he was active this past season, he was still limited to only 60 minutes in 13 games, highlighted by a double-double at Rutgers in only 14 minutes of playing time.
While Smotherman has some potential options to get on the court, Taylor’s spot at the four not only leaves him behind Swanigan and Edwards, but also the previously mentioned Smotherman. His best bet is if Painter ends up keeping a deeper rotation and decides to stay away from a small ball line-up when Haas is on the bench, instead utilizing Swanigan/Taylor to help plug the four and five (with Smotherman playing more of a three spot and assuming Edwards doesn’t hold down the four).
The potential problem with that is Taylor’s raw ability hasn’t led to many minutes and without the experience it’s hard to see him instantly contributing this season. Or in other words, Taylor needs some Big Ten experience and playing time, but Purdue might not be willing to go through the growing pains as the team has aspirations of a potential Big Ten title in 2017.
When everything is said and done, both Smotherman and Taylor will likely see playing time in a back-up role and will be used predominantly as depth for at least the next season. For Smotherman this has to be somewhat disappointing, as the four star recruit has shown flashes throughout his career and he could easily be a starting forward for Purdue if not for Swanigan and Edwards. As for Taylor, he’s still waiting to prove himself after being limited his first two years and that inexperience could be detrimental to getting him more minutes heading forward.
You can point out that both of these guys would (obviously) enjoy playing more this winter, but the one good thing about this situation is that it shows that Purdue does have plenty of depth in the front court once again. It’s not quite to the extent of having Hammons and Haas last year, but it will give Painter options heading forward and will provide relief if injuries flare up or the starters end up in foul trouble.
Everyone’s going to focus on Haas, Swanigan and Edwards, but the success of Smotherman and Taylor could prove to be one of the keys in determining just how good Purdue will be this year.