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Zach Edey's return gives No. 3 Boilermakers another opportunity to think big in 2023-24

Purdue center Zach Edey thought long and hard about leaving for the NBA last spring.

He just found too many reasons to stay in school.

Adding a third Big Ten championship ring to his collection sounded intriguing. The 7-foot-4 Canadian also thought he could improve on last season's breakout campaign. And, of course, he and the rest of the third-ranked Boilermakers wanted one more shot at winning a national championship.

Perhaps the biggest factor for the nation's best-known big man was enjoying one last year of campus life.

“Purdue has been great to me,” Edey said. “The campus loves me, the coaches love me, I love my teammates and then we have a chance to really compete for every championship there is in the country. So I think when you have an opportunity like that, it's hard to pass up.”

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Critics might contend Edey didn't really have a choice, given the NBA's swing toward small-ball lineups and that he will be hard-pressed to duplicate or improve upon last season's incredible stat line — 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and a shooting percentage of 60.7%.

Purdue coach Matt Painter disagrees. He sees Edey, the AP player of the year, a unanimous pick as a preseason All-American and yet still a relative basketball newcomer, still ascending.

“I was like (age) 12 in my seventh year of organized basketball, so he's got a lot of room (to improve),” Painter said. “It's not like he's leveled off. Last year, at this time, they said he couldn't block shots, he couldn't play in ball-screen defense. He made the all-defensive team, and he was great in both areas.”

With four of last season's top five scorers back, including Edey, Purdue knows anything is possible — even going from first-round upset victim to national champ.

“Hopefully, you can do what Virginia did when they lost in the first round as a No. 1 seed to a 16," Painter said. "We talked about it, we discussed it, but now it's time for us to get back to work and put ourselves back in that position.”

Edey couldn't think of a better way to finish his final college season.

“Everyone's really worked hard this summer to try and right that wrong,” Edey said.

BACK-TO-BACK?

Edey's return gives him a chance to become the fifth player to be the national player of the year in consecutive seasons.

Virginia center Ralph Sampson was the last to do it. He won the award three straight times (1980-83). The others: Jerry Lucas of Ohio State (1960-62), Bill Walton of UCLA (1971-73), David Thompson of North Carolina State (1973-75). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the award twice in three years.

STANDING TALL

Painter expects more consistency out of a backcourt featuring two second-year starters in Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith and highly touted freshman, Myles Colvin.

But where Purdue always seems to stand out is on the front line and this season will be no different. Foward Mason Gillis is the smallest at 6-6. Painter other options are incumbent starter Caleb Furst at 6-10, forward Trey Kaufman-Renn at 6-9 and center Will Berg at 7-2.

MOST IMPROVED

Gillis believes the secret to this season's success may be the development of Kaufman-Renn, an Indiana prep star who redshirted in 2021-22 as a freshman and struggled with productivity in his second season at Purdue.

“I think he's really, really improved this summer,” Gillis said. “He's really worked on his body, he's slimmed down. He really lives in there (the gym) and it's really, really shown in the improvements.”

THE SCHEDULE

Purdue opens at home Nov. 6 against Samford. There are also November dates with Xavier, No. 11 Gonzaga and possibly No. 9 Tennessee at the Maui Invitational. There are also back-to-back Saturdays against No. 24 Alabama and No. 12 Arizona in December and the Big Ten opener is Dec. 4 against Iowa.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball