Day 3: Purdue | Traveling Violations
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – So who is Purdue head-coach-in-waiting Matt Painter? Can this unusual situation work? Long-term, can the Boilermakers maintain the level of excellence Gene Keady delivered the last 24 seasons?
Those are the key questions surrounding Purdue.
Let's start with No. 1. Painter is a 34-year-old Muncie, Ind., native who played for the Boilers from 1989 to 1993. He cut his coaching teeth under current Illinois coach Bruce Weber at Southern Illinois, and last year was the successful head coach of the Salukis.
He is also one of those easygoing, easy-to-like Midwestern types who just seems to fit here.
"He loves the game, he does things right and he doesn't have an ego," says Keady, who hand-picked Painter as his successor. "He just understands how to play the game the right way."
The situation here is unusual. Keady is the head coach. Painter left his head job at SIU to be the assistant. But after the season Painter will get promoted, which is why he was the face of recruiting all summer. Keady, however, is still the undisputed head of the team during the season.
This is somewhat similar to what Michigan State did when Jud Heathcote retired. They named top assistant Tom Izzo the heir apparent. That sort of worked, didn't it?
"Right now I am an assistant coach," Painter reminds. "I know I am very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."
Can it work long-term? Why not?
Painter proved he can coach at SIU. He was Weber's right-hand man in building that program, which thrived because the staff found a number of under-recruited players, including guard Kent Williams.
Then there is Painter's demeanor. He is Indiana to the core, a straight-shooting, smart and driven young coach who is determined that his alma remain a winner. And with Purdue, he has plenty to sell local kids.
"Initially we have 10 scholarships for the next two seasons, so I have been telling [recruits], 'You can come here and play right away.' We have great tradition here … and getting a degree from Purdue University means a great deal in the Midwest."
Painter says all of this with winning conviction. It's an unusual situation, but spend a little time with Keady and Painter and it makes sense.
It's early yet, but this has the earmark of an ingenious move.
No trip to West Lafayette is complete without a stop at the legendary Purdue restaurant/bar Harry's Chocolate Factory, est. 1913. To say this is a local institution does not even begin to describe it. And the food is pretty good, too.
Of course, we did see a kid projectile vomit on the floor. And it was only at 7 p.m. But we doubt he was the first at this place. Or the last.
Painter joined us for a couple beers at Harry's and he is quick to remind that his old team – Southern Illinois – is poised for a big-time season this year. "Count on it," he says.
Soon after Painter graduated from Purdue he entered a team in the Gus Macker Tournament in his hometown on Muncie, Ind. In an effort to stack the deck in his favor he brought in one of Purdue's new recruits, a big kid from Illinois named Brian Cardinal. The problem was Cardinal played terribly.
"I told Cardinal that based on his performance in the Munice Macker he wasn't good enough to play in the Big Ten," laughed Painter.
Cardinal recently signed a $38 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Also at Harry's, we heard a just great story about Jo and George Allesee getting a new home. The couple is from La Porte, Ind., both retired educators (George also is a World War II veteran) and had lived in the same house for decades.
Their now-adult children, Nancy and David, decided it was time for something new and better for their parents. So unbeknownst to mom and dad, they (along with their spouses) returned to La Porte and purchased a brand-new, dream retirement home.
On Friday, they were going to bring their parents over and give them the house as a present. Nancy and David were at Harry's Thursday night celebrating when we met them.
Harry's has a couple of mottos: "Go Ugly Early" and "Drink 'Em Pretty." We won't argue the value of these life lessons, but it certainly doesn't say much about your confidence in your clientele.
The drive from South Bend to West Lafayette takes you through "Pink Houses" country. Wheelman Bret Bearup, marveling at the ingeniousness of farming, is considering taking next year off from life.
"Much like a crop rotation, next year I may lay fallow," he says. "I have the feeling I'm almost out of nitrate."
Valued Reader Email:
Your submissions, with my responses in italics:
Your road trip sounds like fun. When I go out on the road, the freedom is somewhat limited. I have been in Iraq serving since last February with a National Guard unit. I missed the last two months of the season and most of March Madness. I'm ready for some college hoops.
I am from the Queen City, Cincinnati, perhaps the center of the college hoops universe. Sure you have Tobacco Road, which is hard to compete with. But within 100 miles you have Cincinnati, Xavier, Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State, and Dayton. That's some pretty good competition.
Have fun, and drink a cold one for me.
First off, thanks for serving the country. On your point, I agree, as good as Tobacco Road and the Great Plains are, the Ohio River Valley is the nation's most passionate college basketball area. Which is why we always visit the area.
We rolled through Logansport, Ind., where the high school team was once coached by Memphis associate head coach (and former Wright State head coach) Ed Schilling.
Whoever named the little towns in this part of Indiana certainly was a grand dreamer. There isn't much out here, but don't tell that to the founders of Peru, Monticello, Denver, Warsaw or Mexico.
Checking into the Tour was super scout Gar Foreman of the Chicago Bulls, who couldn't come join us because he wanted to attend the Bulls' season opener.
We think it was a cop-out though. It's not like they were handing out championship rings.
We also heard from new Iowa associate head coach Craig "Noodles" Neal, whom Steve Alford hired away from the Toronto Raptors. Neal should be a boon to the Hawkeye program, not just because of his eye for talent but also his ability to simply get guys better. Nice move by Alford.
Total mileage thus far: 403.5 miles.
Next campaign stop: Champaign, Ill.