Individual improvement, for every player at every position, will be a focus for Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter this offseason.
What that means changes from athlete to athlete.
"Each guy's a little bit different," Painter said. "Normally when that's the case with a guy, they're not going to be great in that area because obviously that's a weakness for them. But they have to be better."
The Boilermakers could all stand to improve after a 16-18 campaign. The Purdue staff has put a premium on seeing that work in action. Players who don't get better, and who don't look better, won't get many minutes next season.
"Some of it's simple -- being able to consistently shoot free throws and hit open jump shots," Painter said. "Trying to get each one of them to understand that their improvement comes from their hard work."
That comes with maturity and accountability, Painter said, two things the Boilermakers lacked in 2012-13. While there was progress, he wants to see more of it, from the assured starter to the last man on the bench.
On a team with a sub-par record, there are no guarantees, Painter said. Any player could take a lion's share of minutes if they deserve them. The coaching staff has made that, and what players need to do to earn time, perfectly clear.
"I think sometimes getting that harsh with a guy who's 21, 22, 23 years old, after they've gotten inconsistent minutes, I think they respect that," he said. "Now, they know what they've got to do to get on the court.… That's really what we tried to do with each guy is just to be brutally honest and help them in their process of getting better and, ultimately, help each guy get on the court."
Jay Simpson makes strides
Forward Jay Simpson, who was out most of the season with a foot injury, has been working his way back to form and making strides, Painter said.
He could be an impact player in the Big Ten, or a role player should this offseason not pan out. Much of it depends on the freshman's work ethic and his ability to overcome some conditioning issues.
Simpson has asthma, a roadblock the training staff has taken on readily as he attempts to prepare himself for the coming season. But in spurts, he has shown all-conference potential.
"Jay's a talented guy," Painter said. "We don't have anyone else like him who can dribble, pass and shoot at 6-9, 250."
Versatility is Simpson's greatest weapon. He could play as a center or a power forward, and his quickness and shooting are enough to bother defenders at both positions.
Painter has liked what he's seen most from Simpson when he's running at the five.
"He really causes a mismatch when a center's got to guard him," Painter said. "I see it every day in practice. And it's really his niche when it comes to the offensive end, because he can take a guy out and shoot perimeter jump shots and drive the ball and pass it or play out of the post and use his quickness.
"He's got a lot of kind of deceptive moves for a big guy where he can get from A to B pretty quick. Now we've got to get him to finish."
The Boilermakers have to get him ready to play a 40-minute game, too. In half-court action, Painter said he sees Simpson as easily one of the best big men in the Big Ten.
But it isn't a half-court game. The forward will need to be able to get up and down.
Program looks to add experience
With two upperclassmen on a roster depleted by transfers, the Boilermakers have expressed interest in adding a fifth-year senior or a junior college player for the coming season.
Painter said he doesn't see another body as a necessity, but he also knows players can't fake experience on the court.
"There's some guys out there," he said. "There's not a lot of guys. I think the fifth-year guys are the ones that a lot of people are looking towards all over the country."
Purdue has "looked at all markets" for possible additions. The priority, Painter said, is a reliable shooter who can help the Boilermakers stretch the defense.
Last season, the program was last in the Big Ten in threes attempted and threes made. Much of that, Painter said, came from not having a player who knew how to take shots in rhythm or find the right time to fire away.
"There's no doubt we have to have a more skilled player," Painter said. "When it gets right down to it, you have to recruit guys who can shoot better than that."
Incoming freshman Kendall Stephens is an option in that regard, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Boilermakers add to the roster before the start of next season.
Freshman have 'a perfect opportunity'
Painter had no qualms suggesting his players needed to give more this offseason than they showed during his team's sub-.500 campaign.
He also didn't hesitate to suggest spots are up for grabs – and open to incoming freshmen – should that not happen.
The Boilermakers have a strong incoming class, headlined by the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter Stephens. Northrop standout Bryson Scott is no slouch, either, and both are consensus top-100 players and among the best guards in the country.
Throw in Lawrence North forward Basil Smotherman, a versatile option on the wing, and there are three contenders for major minutes.
"I think we're in a transition period to where they're gonna have a chance to play a lot of minutes," Painter said. "The guys that we have starting for us right now, none of them have consistently started on a winning team."
The coach noted all the talk on paper isn't relative to competition at the college level. Scott, for example, won't be much of a factor if he can't prove himself against guards like Terone Johnson.
"Recruits don't have flaws, but players do," Painter said. "These guys are gonna go from looking like $1 million, and all of a sudden they get on campus and it's all relative. Now you're going against guys that have played major-college basketball, and they've been in the trenches.
"If they're going to be casual and go through the motions, they're going to be left behind."
Painter comments on Sandi Marcius
Departing forward Sandi Marcius will have to pony up $7,000 of his own if he wants to finish classes at Purdue.
Painter had no problem saying that. And, given the situation, he shouldn't.
"He voluntarily withdrew for our team, so I think that's where it stands at this point," Painter said. "Now he wants us to pay for his school after the fact.… Nobody told him he had to leave. We wanted him to stay. That was a decision that he made."
If Marcius wanted his summer school paid for, he made that choice at the wrong time. The forward also has already had four years, including summer semesters, to finish his degree.