Haas is new key big man for No. 20 Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For Purdue 7-foot-2 senior center Isaac Haas, it was a blessing to be able to practice against and play with All-American Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan for two seasons, as well as current Miami Heat center A.J. Hammons for two seasons.
Haas, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 19.5 minutes a game last season, hopes to parlay that experience into a monster senior season and a second consecutive Big Ten Conference championship.
No. 20 Purdue begins its season Friday night against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, which should be much improved for coach Jon Harris after posting a 6-24 mark in 2016-17.
"With A.J. being the great athlete that he is, it gave me an opportunity to prove myself athletically," Haas said. "Then with Biggie, it was his athletic ability and drive. He was relentless on the court. He gave us an idea of what it's going to take to be relentless now.
"It makes it a whole lot easier now, and hopefully I can continue that throughout the year. I want to be as relentless as Biggie was."
Haas said the tutelage from Swanigan and Hammons helped him improve in several areas.
"This year, I am seeing the court better and am in better condition," Haas said. "I also have a better idea what needs to be done on the court and understanding certain situations. I want to make sure guys don't get their heads down when things don't go their way."
Redshirt 7-3 freshman center Matt Haarms also is grateful he got to train with Swanigan -- now playing for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers -- for a semester.
"It's really great," Haarms said. "For me to have an opportunity to work with someone of Biggie's skill level is just great. You have a chance to get better every day. Not a lot of schools have those kinds of talented players walking around."
Purdue coach Matt Painter said Haas will have a special season if he avoids foul trouble.
"When you have watched the big guys that we have had -- Carl Landry, Caleb Swanigan, A.J. Hammons and JaJuan Johnson -- they stayed in the game," Painter said. "They learned by their senior year. That wasn't an attribute they had when they got here. So far, Isaac hasn't been able to do that for us. He has to learn to play good position defense and stay in a stance."
Painter's 13th Purdue squad includes four returning starters. The Boilermakers finished second in the World University Games at Taipei, Taiwan, in August.
"This opener is a little different, especially for us, because we played so many games in the summer and got a bonus game with the Hurricane Relief against Indiana State to go with the exhibition game against Carroll College and the scrimmage against West Virginia," Painter said.
"We have been challenged already a couple of times. All three games have been really been beneficial. We definitely are in a different position for our first game than a lot of people in the country. Hopefully, that can lead us to having success, not only Friday but at the beginning of the season."
Painter said he likes the quickness and athleticism of SIU-Edwardsville, although he knows it is difficult to gauge a team so early in the season.
"This team is entirely different from the one we had a year ago," Harris said of his Cougars squad. "In two years, we have done a pretty good job competing on the boards and holding our own defensively. The reality is we haven't had enough scoring, especially late in a game when we are right there."
This year's SIU-Edwardsville team will have more offense.
Returning starting forward Jalen Henry averaged 13 points and six rebounds, and returning starting forward Keenan Simmons averaged eight points and 7.5 rebounds last season.
Julian Torres, a 6-9, 250-pound post player, is a talented transfer from the University of Illinois-Chicago, and junior guard David McFarland is a transfer from East Mississippi Community College.
Harris understands the task his team faces Friday.
"Purdue is a Top 20 team for a reason," Harris said. "We are excited about it, first and foremost you always want to gauge yourself against the best. From a national recruiting perspective, we always play a pretty challenging schedule."
Purdue is eager to learn if 6-10 redshirt junior forward Jacquil Taylor will be able to play Friday after being sidelined for a month with an injured right foot. He practiced for an hour Tuesday but still was sore.
Updated November 8, 2017