From Delta H.S. to the national title game

MUNCIE, Ind. – Before Matt Painter was a Purdue Boilermaker, he was a Delta Eagle in Muncie.

“Matt could really do it all,” Brad Himes said. “He was a great teammate. What set Matt apart more than anything was his basketball IQ and his ability to see the floor. Matt always knew you were open before you did.”

Himes was Painter’s teammate on the Eagles’ basketball team in the late 80s as they tried to change Delta from a state wrestling power to a basketball school.

“We kind of felt like we were starting to lift Delta basketball to another level,” said Himes. “Obviously, this year’s team and the success that some of the other teams have had have taken that to another place, but in a lot of ways Matt was the beginning of basketball rising here to a level that we wanted to get it to.”

“Growing up there was great, because you’re always searching for a game,” Painter said of his hometown. “Whether you’re playing outside in your backyard, at one of the parks, the Y, the Boys Club or your high school, that was really what we did.”

Painter did it well enough to score almost 15-hundred career points in high school, lead Delta to a sectional championship in 1989 and become the school’s first Indiana All-Star. Like many top basketball recruits at the time, he had his eye on the Hoosiers.

“I got recruited by Indiana before I got recruited by Purdue,” Painter recalled. “Purdue actually signed me in the spring. Coach Knight wanted me to go to prep school for a year. It wasn’t the best thing. I was not going to be better than guys he had there. He had some really good players, some really good guards, so it was a blessing in disguise for me to get to Purdue and get with Coach Keady.”

Purdue and Painter are still reaping the benefits of that decision 35 years later as the Boilermakers play in their first national championship game since 1969. Himes and his wife, Angie, will be watching his friend on Monday on the the edge of their seats.

“I haven’t been this nervous about a game since I played,” Himes said. “It’s just that simple, because you want this so badly for Matt, because you know the kind of time he’s put into it, the kind of person he is and it would be great to see him rewarded if they can win that big one on Monday night.”

If Painter does finally win the “big one” in Glendale, Himes knows it won’t change his former teammate one bit.

“I can pick up in conversation where we were 35 years ago and he hasn’t let the success he’s had really change him or his outlook,” said Himes. “It’s a testament to him and testament to his upbringing.”

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