Despite the abrupt, unfortunate end to the men’s basketball season, Boilermaker fans shouldn’t lose hope in the young team.
The current quartet of freshmen is strikingly similar to the 2007-08 season’s “Baby Boilers,” who went on to win the Big Ten tournament the season after their freshman year.
The Baby Boilers, composed of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Scott Martin and Robbie Hummel, represented the team well, as half of the Boilermakers were freshmen at the time.
A stellar start to the season countered the freshmen’s initial signs of immaturity in the group’s first couple of games. Purdue won seven of its first 10 games by an average margin of 16 points.
Spurred by the freshmen, the team finished the season at No. 20 in the AP Poll — a ranking identical to the 2020-21 team’s final ranking.
The Baby Boilers’ youth eventually broke through in the squad’s first tournament run as the stakes grew higher and the competition tougher. Their hopeful first season ended in losses to more experienced rosters.
They lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to an Illinois team searching for an identity after the loss of several NBA-level players at the start of the Bruce Weber era.
Despite a convincing victory against Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Boilers were out of the dance after a loss in the second round to an Xavier team that included just one freshman. Xavier’s roster had members who played for the entirety of fourth-year head coach Sean Miller’s young career with the Musketeers.
Though Martin transferred to Notre Dame after one season with Purdue, the Boilermakers continued to build upon their early success, propelling them the next year to the Big Ten Tournament title and the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
They ended the following two seasons ranked No. 10 and No. 13, respectively, in the AP Poll.
Hummel has mentioned how crucial their freshman year was in shaping their success in the following seasons on several episodes of 2016-16 graduate Rapheal Davis’ podcast, “Boiler Up.”
“We weren’t clicking on all cylinders,” Hummel said. “(Head coach Matt Painter) was really really patient with the young guys while also doing a lot of teaching.”
A full decade later, it seems Painter’s patience has endured for the current star quartet of freshmen that resemble the Baby Boilers: guard Jaden Ivey, center Zach Edey, forward Mason Gillis and guard Brandon Newman.
When asked about the similarities between the Baby Boilers and the current freshmen, fans said they felt the latter group shares some resemblance and has a bright future.
“I definitely think our current four freshmen have the potential to be the Baby Boilers if they weren’t already,” said Keegan Moster, a junior in the College of Engineering.
Civil engineering graduate student Alex Long said he believes the current group of freshmen has the potential not only to match the success of the Baby Boilers, but to exceed it. This generation’s players have a higher floor and ceiling than their predecessors, Long said, while sporting more leadership on offense.
Emma Nikolai, a sophomore in the College of Agriculture, said she was unfamiliar with the Baby Boilers, but says she has high expectations for the new group’s offseason gains.
“I’m hoping we will be a lot better, especially since our team is so young we will hopefully be able to improve a lot during the off season,” Nikolai said. “Especially Edey because he’s so new to basketball, he has a lot of room for improvement.”
Like the original Baby Boilers, Ivey, Gillis and Newman all hail from within 100 miles of Purdue. Toronto-native Edey is the exception.
Early this season, after putting up 29 points against Minnesota, Hummel spoke highly of fellow Valparaiso, Indiana native Newman.
“Brandon Newman has come a long way. I’m really proud of him,” Hummel said. “I know how much work he’s put in.”
Although the Boilermakers didn’t excel at the end of the unusual COVID-19 season, that doesn’t mean next year doesn’t come with good prospects. Even the Baby Boilers had to outgrow their individualized NBA-level talent and playing as a second-half team.
“I just think that you have to go through those things,” Hummel said on the podcast. “It’s a process to be good. You know, Paint always said, ‘If it was easy, everybody would do it, everybody would win the Big Ten.’”