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A heart-to-heart with his coaches basically was a waste of time for Ryne Smith last spring.
As the Purdue basketball staff sent their young guard into his first offseason, they instructed him to do two things - get stronger and get better defensively. Smith, though, was aware of his deficiencies and had made plans to address them.
"It was obvious to me," Smith said.
Improvement has been obvious ever since. The former Whitmer standout is averaging 15.5 minutes per game for the fourth-ranked Boilermakers, up from 5.3 mpg last year when he appeared in 18 of 37 contests as freshman.
Purdue is 14-0, 1-0 Big Ten.
Smith has set two important career high marks this year, in points scored and in minutes played. Perhaps the latter is more important given the circumstances - it was in a matchup of two unbeaten teams and the milestone was linked with defense. Smith earned his 21 minutes by chasing West Virginia standouts Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks and limiting them to a combined 8 of 21 shooting in a 77-62 thrashing of the Mountaineers on New Year's.
"It was the most fun I've had in a basketball game ever," said Smith, who posted seven points and four rebounds.
Following the game Purdue assistant Rick Ray referred to Smith as a defensive specialist. Such a label was never attached to Smith during high school when he averaged 18 points as a senior but "didn't play a lick of defense."
"It's nothing I've done," Purdue coach Matt Painter told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette this week. "He's the one who has stepped up and has been able to work on his game. That's the thing - if you'll try hard and work and listen and be coachable, you're going against some of the best players in college basketball, you're going to get better and improve."
Smith has totaled at least 10 minutes in every game this year and is averaging 4.8 points and 1.8 rebounds. Of nonstarters, only Kelsey Barlow (16.5 mpg) is playing more.
As for Smith's other offseason responsibility - bulking up - he says he weighs 185 pounds, up from his introductory college weight of 165.
"I couldn't ask for anything better right now," he said. "After not playing much last year as a freshman, the whole experience of getting this time for one of the top programs in the nation has been awesome."
This year hasn't solely been about defense though. Smith dropped a career-high 16 points in a November win over Saint Joseph's, 13 of which came in a span of just over two minutes. Smith buried two 3-pointers and all seven of his free throw attempts, helping the Boilermakers expand their lead from 16 to 26.
"I didn't think it was that many points that fast," Smith said.
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