SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—Chris Kramer is a former high-school football player. He has a square jaw, atop a block-like neck and shoulders. The banged-up, one-time safety defends as if opposing forwards are running backs.
Kramer looks and acts so much like a football player—a very good one— that former Purdue football coach Joe Tiller used to greet him enthusiastically at the Boilermakers’ athletic training table.
“Four million. Three million,” Tiller would tell the puzzled Kramer, every time. “That’s the kind of money you’d make playing (football) on Sundays.”
Kramer’s playing this Sunday. His smash-mouth, fourth-seeded Boilermakers (28-5) collide with rugged Texas A&M (24-9) in a second-round grudge match in the South Regional.
Helmets and shoulder pads may be more appropriate than the extra-long shorts in a matchup Dick Butkus would love.
“I’m looking forward this. It’s going to be a 40-minute game of defense,” Aggies forward Bryan Davis said.
He will be banging with JaJuan Johnson—the 6-foot-10 force that led Purdue past Siena in Friday’s first round with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
A&M point guard Dash Harris and Purdue’s Lewis Jackson will pick each other up deep in the other’s backcourt and go at it for 94 feet.
Kramer, the two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, will be giving up five inches to Aggies 6-foot-8 forward David Loubeau.
How will Purdue’s all-time steals leader compensate for that disadvantage?
“Not let him get the ball,” Kramer said flatly. He wasn’t smiling.
Texas A&M has spent 60 minutes of their 90-minute practices on defense since a loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament that infuriated coach Mark Turgeon.
“One practice was all defense,” forward Khris Middleton said.
Stew Morrill is 57 years old and in 24 years has been a head man at Montana, Colorado State and Utah State. Yet after he watched A&M throttle his team to 39-percent shooting and leave All-WAC guard Jared Quayle with the worst shooting day of his Utah State career on Friday, Morrill was awed.
“I had heard they were good defensively, but to see it firsthand is pretty impressive,” he said. “That’s by far the best defensive team we have played all year.”
A&M senior guard Donald Sloan says, “It’s our whole identity.”
And Purdue, as Kramer says “lives defense.”
Boilermakers shooting guard Keaton Grant said there are times when 95 percent of practices are on defense.
Coach Matt Painter has his Boilermakers begin each day with the “close-out” drill. A player takes a tennis ball into each hand, then jumps out to defend shooters. The idea is to get defenders to rely on moving their feet and gain prime position instead of grabbing with their hands.
In the “36-second” drill, a player must successfully defend three different players for 12 seconds each.
Then it’s on to the “Timberwolf” drill.
“Oh, hell,” Grant says. “That’s the one I hate.”
A player must defend a zigzagging dribbler down the floor, frantically shuffling his feet to stay in front. Then a second, fresh dribbler tries to beat the defender to the other end. That’s where a third, fresh player is waiting to attack the basket against the now-drained defensive guy.
If the player gets scored on by the last, spry guy, the defender has to do it all again.
“I’m like, ‘God, help!”’ Jackson said.
As for team drills, if the defense gets scored on, all five guys on that unit have extra running. There is no switching for screens with fellow defenders. At Purdue, screens are made to be run through.
No wonder its locker room looked like a triage center after practice Saturday. Jackson had ice on his ankle and the midfoot fracture in his foot. D.J. Byrd had a wrap and sleeve on his arm plus an ice pack on his knee. Kramer had a sleeve over his right arm and pad on his right elbow, and about a six-inch gash from his left elbow down his forearm.
“I’m fine,” he said.
He sounded offended to be asked.