Meet Purdue’s other star, Braden Smith, who could be key to Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament redemption hopes

As casual college basketball fans fill out their 2024 NCAA Tournament brackets and attempt to discern which of the No. 1 seeds they can trust, some may understandably be wary of Purdue, which opens play Friday in the first round vs. the winner of Wednesday’s First Four game between No. 16 seeds Grambling State and Montana State. The Boilermakers famously became the second No. 1 seed to ever lose against a No. 16 seed last season, when they fell to Fairleigh Dickinson in a bracket-busting first-round outcome.

But for those doubting the Boilermakers because of that loss, there are a few numbers of note that explain why Purdue is better-equipped for March Madness this time around. Just to name a few: 12.5, 7.3 and 44.8%. Those are the points per game, assists per game and 3-point shooting percentage numbers of sophomore point guard Braden Smith.

After committing a career-high seven turnovers in the FDU loss to end last season, Smith wasted little time returning to the grind to build on an otherwise excellent freshman season. The results have been impressive. In addition to improving his offensive numbers in nearly every facet, he’s also emerged as an impact defender for the Boilermakers, ranking second on the team behind only star center Zach Edey in defensive rating at

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“I just believe in sticking with it,” Smith told CBS Sports on the approach he took following the FDU loss. “Take your couple days off, but at the end of the day, it’s a job and we just lost a game. So in my mind, I’m like, ‘why would we want to take a break when we just lost to someone that we should have beaten by 40?’ That’s always been my mindset.”

ICE IN HIS VEINS!!! 🥶 @3bradensmith x @BoilerBall

— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 6, 2024
Smith got back to work quickly, and it has paid off. He has already set the Purdue record for assists this season while facilitating an offense that ranks second nationally in 3-point shooting at 40.8% entering the Big Dance. By contrast, the Boilermakers shot just 32.2% from 3-point range last season, which was 291st. The 6-foot guard has also started hunting shots for himself more often, emerging as the team’s second-leading scorer after Edey and earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. Though he went through an injury scare at the Big Ten Tournament, Smith is primed to help the Boilermakers stay longer in this year’s tournament.

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Entering the postseason, Smith spoke with CBS Sports to shed some light on who he is as a person and as the player charged with directing the attack for a Purdue team seeking redemption.

Q: How has your offensive identity evolved since you got to Purdue?

A: “My freshman year, I just came in and tried to play a role. That was to get people shots and to make people better and get them in spots to be successful. That was my role. Scoring was just going to come when it came. Last year, that didn’t work out as well. So just me trying to look more for my shot first and then trying to get help guys in their spots second, I think that’s helped a little bit more.”

Q: But your assist numbers are also up significantly, so it seems you’re still taking a lot of pride in being a distributor?

A: “It’s just who I’ve been my whole life, always getting other people the ball. I’ve always been super over-passive. I sometimes get yelled at for that. That’s just who I am, because I believe as a point guard that’s my job, to get people on your side and to trust you and want you to lead them.”

Q: Undersized players are often perceived as defensive liabilities. You’re an exception. How much pride are you taking with your play on that end of the floor?

A: “When you step on the court, you’ve got to play with that chip on your shoulder every single game. I feel like that’s who I am and who I’ve been. Just taking it a little bit more personal towards the end of the season and just knowing that I can do it and that it’s really just more mental stuff. When guarding those guys, it’s just being smart. Guys that are taller and stronger, we know what they like to do and don’t like to do. So I just try and get people in situations to make decisions that they normally don’t. Like, if someone is really dominant with their right hand, then force them left. It’s a very simple thought. But once you actually do it and make them do something they’re not comfortable doing, it benefits you.”

Q: What are the dynamics like with being part of such a basketball-oriented family? (Smith’s parents, Dustin and Ginny, played at Arkansas Tech. His younger brother, Maddox, is a budding player, too).

A: “They both played college basketball, so being able to learn from them and know what it takes to get to this point, that’s obviously a huge help because they’ve been there and they’ve done it. That’s nice. My mom was a Mrs. Basketball (in Arkansas). So we’ve been about basketball our whole lives. My brother, he’s kind of following my footsteps. He’s 12 years old and he’s playing really well so far. So hopefully he can keep developing, keep getting better and then hopefully be where I’m at one day.”

Q: How does basketball help you bond with your little brother?

A: “Our relationship is pretty close. Ever since I left for college, it’s kind of been tough just because we’re so busy and it’s hard for me to come back other than on holidays and stuff. But every once in a while, I try and make it a weekend to where I can come to a couple of his games and stuff. I’d say we’re pretty close for our age gap.

“He hears enough from my dad and mom, so I feel like I’m that middle guy to where I’m not always about basketball or sports. Sometimes I’ll give him a couple tips here or there if I’m watching his game or whatever. But when I’m back home, we’re playing Xbox and we’re playing 1 on 1 in the yard or throwing the football — stuff like that.”

Thanks to Purdue players Mason Gillis, Fletcher loyer , Chase Barrett and Braden Smith for their support at the Westfield 6th grade rocks game today in Lafayette. @WHSRocksBball @3bradensmith so cool seeing them cheer for the boys. Let’s go boilers and rocks.

— Dustin Smith (@dsmitty72503) November 12, 2023
Q: Do your parents still like to coach you up?

A: “They’re still like my coaches in a sense. My dad was always super hard on me and wanted me to be good and always wanted me to be where I’m at today. He wanted it really bad for me. So me and him have had our battles just arguing because he’s always wanting the best. Sometimes you’re just tired of hearing it because you hear it from everybody. But he’s super supportive and helps me, gives me tips. If it’s a good game or bad game, he’s always there. Same with my mom. She has the calmer, softer tone.”

Q: Does your style of play more closely mirror your mom’s style or dad’s style?

A: “With shooting and playmaking, I’m probably like my mom. But with ball-handling and being a true point guard, I’m probably more like my dad. So I’d say I’m a true mixture of both.”

Q: What’s your work regimen like outside of practice?

A: “I’m not a guy who goes in for two or three hours. I just like getting a quick little 30 or 45-minute workout in every day to just keep it consistent and keep it light. Because my load every day during games and during the week of practice is just so much. It’s about listening to the guys here like Coach (Matt) Painter that have been through it, and just understanding my position and how I’m playing and just taking rest, taking those days off and being able to get your body healthy.”

Q: You’ve obviously got a strong basketball IQ How do you foster that part of your identity and build it away from the court?

A: “I go in with P.J. (Purdue director of player development P.J. Thompson) a couple times a week and watch film. He clips up stuff and has videos for me to watch. I also have a shooting coach as well, and he breaks down the shots that I make and miss and why I made and missed those shots. So I have a couple people around that break it down and just show me in case I miss something. Or if something works out well that we talked about, they can point it out.”

“I think we now have to make the statement: Braden Smith is one of the Top 5 players in the Big Ten. He should be an All-Big First-Team caliber player. Playing like one of the best point guards in the country.”

—@JonRothstein on @BoilerBall’s guard

— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 6, 2024
Q: Returning to your backstory. Westfield High School (in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis) wasn’t known for boys basketball. But you helped change that. What did that experience mean to you?

A: “I went to games my whole life when I started living there. So I’d seen it all with the ups and downs. My class, we played together our whole lives, and it was really nice having that. We played together for so many years and built that chemistry and connection. So that definitely helps. I think that once we got there, we kept doing the same things we’d been doing for years before, and it ended up working out.”

Q: This Purdue team also has great continuity. How has that helped you guys this season?

A: “I think it plays a huge part in our success. Us guys, we played together last year and had great chemistry last year. You add everything last year that we experienced to this year and it just makes it so much better.”

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