It feels wrong to start saying goodbye when we possibly have as many as 11 games left in the season, but tomorrow night is one we have been dreading for four years. It is, of course, Senior Night for JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore. It will be the final time that two of the best players to ever wear Black & Gold will be on the court at Mackey Arena. We've known this was coming and we know that they will continue their careers in the NBA, but it is a bittersweet night knowing we will never seen them play on campus again.
As I wrote a few weeks ago before the Wisconsin game, these guys have been more than players. I feel a link to them because they have helped grow my career from random blogger with few readers into the site as you see it today. It is safe to say that this very site owes its success to theirs on the basketball court. No two players have been involved in more games (135 and counting) or wins (105 and counting) than JJ and Smooge. Assuming we get one more victory his season, They will have never had a season of less than 25 victories. Moore has an outside shot of becoming Purdue's all-time leading scorer ( though he would need to average about 20-25 points per game on a run to the Big Ten Tourney final and NCAA final), while JJ can still become the sixth player in school history to reach 2,000 points (he needs 188 as of this writing).
More importantly, they have represented Purdue off the court with class. Johnson is a prime example of the quiet star that goes about his business without drawing tons of attention to himself. Smooge is an academic All-American, showing that you don't need to put aside the books to be a great basketball player. I managed to talk to both of them briefly at Big Ten Media Day back in October and each was very friendly.
Since both of these guys burst onto the scene immediately as freshmen (Moore has started every game of his career) it is hard to not feel attached to them. We have seen them grow up. We remember when they lost to Wofford as freshmen. We remember when they announced they were ready to contend just weeks later when they beat Wisconsin at home. We remember when they shockingly beat Wisconsin in Madison later on to nearly win a Big Ten title as freshmen, and probably would have if Robbie Hummel had not gotten he flu at Michigan State in a surprising three point loss.
We remember the next season, when they weren't quite ready in high profile losses to Duke, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. We remember when they won Purdue's first Big Ten Tournament. We remember when JJ had two blocks against Washington to send us to the Sweet 16 for the first time in almost a decade. We remember when they rallied around injuries to Sandi Marcius, Lewis Jackson, and finally Hummel to win the program's first Big Ten regular season title in 14 years just a year later. We remember when West Virginia, a Final Four team, had absolutely no answer for JJ. We remember that they have won on every floor in the Big Ten at least once, and all but Ohio State twice.
We remember when they looked forward instead of cowering when Hummel went down a second time. We remember when Coach Painter said the goals had not changed with the loss of Hummel because we had JJ and Smooge. We remember when everyone but us faithful doubted they could still be successful this year. We remember that JJ has grown by leaps and bounds as a player, and that Smooge still has that Red Button ability.
We love these guys. I know many of you readers are like me in that you get emotionally vested in this team. Purdue fans are a very special breed. Most of us have deep ties to the university itself, and we have what seems to be a natural complex from living in the shadows of Indiana in basketball and Notre Dame in football within our own state. That complex makes us fierce supporters of our teams. When guys like Smooge and JJ come along, we embrace them. They feel like a part of our family. We talk about them with others like they were family. (i.e., "Did you see JJ's dunk last night?" and "Holy Crap E`Twaun was so hot he turned white! His name is Steve now!").
Tomorrow night will be extremely hard on the faithful because we can't believe four years have passed and it is already time to say goodbye. I predict that around 9pm it will be extremely dusty in Mackey Arena. I have to work covering a first round sectional game, but I'll be able to watch the second half at home, where it is also likely to be extremely dusty at 9pm. These guys have given us everything they have for the brief time they were at Purdue.
It is an honor to be associated with them as Boilermakers.