Four years ago I was not too sure about this skinny freshman. I had heard about how good he was, but all I saw was another Jonathan Uchendu. He was just so skinny, and I don’t relate well to either skinny players or tall players let alone both. He would throw down a monster dunk, but when you are that tall who can’t? Back then I thought his name was pronounced with the second J being used. I quickly found out that was not the case. That does not seem that long ago.
Over the years his game has developed through hard work, and he is fun to watch. I was way off on my initial perception, and that perception looks even worse over time. Just look at the Michigan State game Sunday as an example of what JJ can do. He had 20 points, 17 rebounds, and seven blocks in the game. He changed how Michigan State looked at their inside game. This is the first season that he has led the team in scoring for Purdue. E’Twaun Moore did that their first three years. This year E’Twaun had a few games where he could not get his offense going. JaJuan saw that the team needed a scorer, and took the opportunity by the horns. He had a great stretch of games helping the Boilers pull out a couple of big wins. None of those shots was bigger than the game winner against Penn State. Four years ago I would not have wanted to see him anywhere near the spot on the floor where he took that shot. i was not a big fan of JJ taking a shot from so deep, but he has worked hard enough that a shot from there is a part of his game now.
What makes Johnson and Moore so special is the role they have played in the turnaround of the team. They signed on to play for coach Matt Painter after the 2005-06 season when they won nine games. That was my first season as a season ticket holder, and people laughed at me for buying season tickets after a 7 win season. I had people making fun of me for re-upping after they only won nine games. That was just a person watching the games. It takes a special kid to sign on to play for a team knowing that things might not be so rosy. They got their minutes, but they also took some lumps. They have learned from those though to become the winningest duo in Purdue history.
Tomorrow night we lose two quality seniors. These guys have taken Purdue to heights that they have not been to for a while. They expected to learn on the job, and they did just that. They contended until the very end for the Big Ten title their freshman season. The next year they won the Big Ten Tournament, and they followed that up with an impressive run in the NCAA Tournament last season after being named co-champs of the Big Ten. Last year was very impressive because of the way that they fought back after losing Robbie Hummel. They both came back to play with Hummel this season, and things did not go as planned. After the second Hummel injury both players were determined to go out winners no matter what. After being left for dead this year they have fought back to be in contention for the regular season Big Ten Title.
This is not the end for these two by any means. This is just the last game at home for them. A road game at Iowa closes out the season followed by the Big Ten Tournament. If they can keep it going they have a great shot at playing close to home to open the NCAA Tournament.
Last year the site was down for a while, and I did not get to post a few of the pictures of these guys that should have been. I posted a picture pack for both Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer just before this season. I thought that I would look through those pictures and pick out a few for both JJ and Smooge. Here are some of the better pictures from the last half of last season.
By the way if anyone from the Paint Crew sees this and wants to bring a shirt with these guys over to my seat just above the number 118 I would be very happy. Last year I was given a senior night shirt with Kramer and Grant on it, and wore it proudly to Indy, Spokane, and Houston. It would be awesome to end up in Houston again this season.