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CHRIS KRAMER's theory on pain—"It's just weakness leaving the body"—is one heard often in Marine boot camp. The junior guard has adopted that creed because he knows plenty about pain. He suffers from a condition known as compartment syndrome, which causes high pressure levels in muscle tissue. Two times he had to undergo surgery for it in 2007, and the seven-inch scars on each of his shins are a reminder of that. While he would prefer not to have them, he admits that the scars "do fit my identity"
The reigning Big Ten defender of the year, Kramer is 6'3", 205 pounds and built like a football free safety. "I'm usually bigger than [players I'm guarding]," he says, "so I try to body them up and get them frustrated." Never was this more evident than on Feb. 12 last season, when he went up against Michigan State's 6-foot, 185-pound star, Drew Neitzel, and held him to six points on 1-of-7 shooting. "Every time [ Neitzel] came off a screen, Chris was right there," says sophomore guard E'Twaun Moore.
Kramer says he can tell when he's doing his job well because his opponent starts blaming his teammates, and in that game Neitzel "was yelling at every other person on the court," Kramer says. "Once he gets to a point where he's that frustrated, you know you've won the battle."
Kramer's 2.3 steals per game last season helped Purdue rank eighth nationally in the percentage of opponents' possessions that ended in turnovers (25.5). His meager offensive stats—6.8 points, 21.7% three-point shooting—belie his value to a team that surprised the Big Ten by coming within one win of a regular-season title. Says coach Matt Painter, "Very few people affect the game as much as [ Kramer] does without scoring from the guard position. If you affect the game without scoring, you're normally a big [man], dominating the glass, getting a lot of blocked shots. He's able to do it by disrupting the flow, getting in passing lanes, shutting down scorers and just playing tough basketball."
Kramer is a perfect complementary player for the Boilermakers, who have no shortage of shooters. Junior Keaton Grant and sophomores Moore and Robbie Hummel all shot better than 43% from the three-point line last season. Who among that trio will lead Purdue in scoring from night to night is anyone's guess. Kramer's role, however, is well defined. "Chris gets up in a guy's face right from the start," says Moore, "and you can tell that guy is thinking, Oh, man. He ain't ever going to stop."