The first thing that comes to mind for some former Creighton players about new Purdue assistant coach Steve Lutz: "Toughness."
Cole Huff and Geoffrey Groselle each played for the Bluejays during Lutz' seven years with Greg McDermott's program. Both tabbed "toughness" above all else when asked to describe him, but with a caveat.
"He's a tough guy, but there's a real balance to him," said Huff, who completed his eligibility at Creighton this past season. "He is a tough, intense guy who doesn't accept you slacking off or losing focus, but at the same time, off the court and on the court, he really cares about his guys. He's like a parent, where he can be pretty hard on you, but just because he wants the best for you.
"He'll test your mental toughness because he'll say some things you might not like, but it'll be the truth. If you're messing up, blowing assignments or just not playing the way you should be, he's going to be the first one to let you know. He definitely gets his point across and more often than not you're going to learn from your mistake so you don't have to deal with Coach Lutz again."
Groselle, a 7-footer now playing professionally in Germany, joked that Purdue players might, "love him and hate him at the same time."
But more of the former, Groselle said.
"If you're messing up, he'll be the first to call you out on it and be brutally honest," Groselle said. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard him yell my name in practice. I've had so many meetings with him and every time, it starts with, 'I'm going to be honest with you, Geoffrey …,' and then, bam, he hits you with it, the truth you don't necessarily want to hear, but you need to hear."
That sort of forthrightness, both players said, built trust, and made Lutz an integral part of Creighton's success. In seven years under McDermott, with Lutz on staff, the Bluejays have averaged 24 wins and made four NCAA Tournament appearances.
"The culture they built those first couple years with Doug (McDermott), it was really a family," Groselle said of his alma mater's success. "That's really why we won so many games. We had an amazing talent in Doug, then in (Justin Patton) and Marcus Foster this year, but the family they built and culture they built was so important, and Lutz was a big part of it.
"It started with recruiting, then continued through my entire career, especially with me. If I ever had an issue, I went to him, and that trust you build with the coaching staff, it really pays dividends on the court, because if you trust your teammates and trust your coaches on and off the court, it's a good recipe for success."
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For Huff, trust wasn't just a player-coach thing.
Lutz recruited him as a transfer from Nevada, then primarily worked with him on skill development during his required redshirt year. That made the two particularly close, Huff said, but also built a bond to those around the player.
"He'll always tell you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not, and he'll tell it to anybody," Huff said. "He won't just tell me if I'm doing something wrong or I need to do something better, but he'll also tell it to the people in my corner. He's not interested in kissing up to people. He's going to be honest at all times, and I think that's what makes him so trustworthy."
Huff said that mattered in recruiting, as Lutz won over his parents and summer coaches as Creighton beat out Iowa, Michigan and Dayton for him. He's been one of several transfer successes Creighton's benefited from in recent years, a marketplace Rivals.com national basketball recruiting analyst Eric Bossi said Lutz has been particularly effective in.
"He became really close with the people around me, my AAU coaches — he became good friends with them — and my mom and dad, they became real close with him too," Huff said. "He just seemed like another family member. Even when things weren't going the best, he was always there for me, whether it was something going on with my family, or if I just needed someone to talk to, whatever."
Same for Groselle, who Lutz first began recruiting out of Plano, Texas, while an assistant coach at SMU, prior to moving to Creighton and signing the big man for its 2011 signing class.
"He really got my parents to trust him, and that's what set me over the edge with Creighton," said Groselle, who held high-major offers at the time of his commitment to the MVC-member Jays. "It was Lutz, that relationship we'd developed over the years, from when he recruited me for SMU, then Creighton. My parents trusted their son to Lutz and it definitely paid off."
That's part of what's made Lutz a well-reputed recruiter, not just in his regional comfort zone of Texas but all over, including the junior college ranks.
"He's a tireless worker and recruiter," said Rivals.com basketball analyst Corey Evans, "and seeing his background in Texas and just how well Carsen Edwards has done at Purdue this past season, look for Lutz to tap into that loaded state and try to find a few more gems that could flourish at Purdue."
With Lutz on staff, Creighton made the high-major jump from the Missouri Valley to the Big East beginning with the 2013 season and has recruited accordingly.
Doug McDermott was a transformational player for Creighton, but not one his father and his staff likely had to twist any arms to get committed.
But aside from McDermott, the Bluejays have recruited at a high level.
For whatever recruiting rankings are worth, Creighton has landed three Rivals.com four-star prospects for 2017. In 2015, Creighton, with Lutz as part of a staff-wide effort, signed local four-star big man Justin Patton, who's now off to the NBA. A year earlier, it signed four-star, top-100-ranked Ronnie Harrell from Denver, who chose it over Purdue and others. This on top of the many impactful transfers McDermott and staff have brought to Omaha.
Bossi said Lutz is known for his diligence in recruiting, for following up on information and following through on his word.
"I think he does a good job separating the actual BS you have to deal with being an assistant coach," Bossi said, "and doing the real follow-up that's required and sticking with that."
Huff and Groselle both spoke of Lutz's endearing personality and ability to build trust in recruiting. Those things matter. A lot.
"I just think he does a really good job," Bossi said. "I think if you spoke to other coaches and people who do what I do, whether on or off the record, I think you'd find he has a really good reputation in the industry, not because he's cool to everybody, but because he's cool to everybody and he does a good job. There are guys out there who everybody likes, but don't get taken very seriously, but people like Steve and they take him seriously."
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