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Purdue basketball fun set to turn serious

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For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Practice officially underway for young Boilers

Saturday, October 13, 2012 - 12:44 am

WEST LAFAYETTE -- The fun is over, at least of the silly variety. The next time the Purdue Boilermakers come together, which is today, the focus will be on the serious task of building another powerhouse basketball squad.

“We have to get down, get better and come together as a team,” senior swingman D.J. Byrd said. “The faster we can do that, the better.”

After a five-year absence, Purdue's version of Midnight Madness, called The Tipoff Before the Kickoff, returned to Mackey Arena Friday night to start official basketball practice as well as jump-start Saturday's Homecoming football game with Wisconsin.

The Boilers' youth-heavy squad consists of six freshmen, including former South Side standout Rapheal Davis, 7-foot, 280-pound center A.J. Hammons and point guard Ronnie Johnson, the younger brother of junior guard Terone Johnson and the likely replacement for Lewis Jackson.

Many of those freshmen are expected to have key roles as Purdue aims to replace long-time standouts Robbie Hummel, Ryne Smith and Jackson. Coach Matt Painter has 18 days before the first exhibition game. The Boilers opens their season Nov. 9 against Bucknell.

“It's going to come down to having the young guys be disciplined and work hard,” Byrd said. “We've had the conditioning, the workouts, the Italy trip. We've done a lot of things. This was to have fun. Now that fun turns to seriousness.”

This was a night for fireworks, smoke, laser lights, flames, loud rap music, team dancing, loud band music and, did we mention fireworks?

Oh, yes. To showcase the program to recruits.

A shooting contest featured both the men's and women's teams. Shots were fired from a variety of distances and somebody named Jimmy Patterson, a student from the Paint Crew student cheering section, made a half court shot.

Dru Anthrop, a senior guard from Lafayette, also made a three-point shot, as did freshman Hayden Hamby.

In the dunk contest -- judges included former Boiler football All-America Leroy Keyes, Super Bowl winner Roosevelt Colvin and former basketball standout Brian Cardinal -- sophomore forward Jacob Lawson was the winner.

Senior forward Sam Ostarello won the women's version of the dunk contest.

Byrd appeared as the fictional Grammy Award winning performer Dirk Hunter. He showed up in a wig, straw hat, flannel shirt and jeans, and played a mean guitar. Finally, he tore off his clothes to reveal his true identity.

“I was a little nervous at first,” he said. “Once I got out there I got more comfortable.”

The Dirk Hunter name came from Purdue's marketing department. So did the fake album covers and all the planning, which included keeping Hunter's true identity a secret.

“It was a fun night and experience,” Byrd said.

Byrd said he's a self-taught guitar player who started when he was in the eighth grade. He plays in a small band in his hometown of Crawfordsville, Ind., that performs at a variety of small events.

During the event Painter talked about the benefits of the August trip to Italy that enabled the youthful Boilers to play four games and get in 10 practices.

“We'll have to compete from Day One with a young team,” he said. “We were fortunate with the timing of our trip.

“Hopefully we can play a lot better than we can dance.”

Women's coach Sharon Versyp pushed a program that is a perennial Big Ten title contender.

“These girls work so hard,” she said. “They win championships and it's going to happen again. Let's get it done.”

Football coach Danny Hope also spoke. He said the Boilers would win a lot of games, go to a big bowl and would beat Wisconsin to take control of the Big Ten's Leaders Division.