There seems to be a lot of speculation about our next ICON returning to Purdue some day in the very near future in order to coach. He has had an improbably long career in the NBA that may culminate in an NBA championship here in a few weeks. In my book, that means he still has some work to do. We knew him affectionately as Citizen Pain, and the man who came the closest to taking Purdue to a Final Four since 1980. We would love for him to come back and teach that toughness to a crop of players that is going to be pretty talented in the next few years.
I remember Brian Cardinal's career very fondly because it coincided with my first two years on campus. When the gift of the 2000 NCAA Tournament and a broken bracket came our way I thought it was destiny. After all, I was a student season ticket holder and the Final Four was less than an hour away at the RCA Dome. I proudly had the High Five sign on my dorm room door in Hillenbrand that celebrated that year's five seniors and our run in the NCAA's.
It wasn't to be though. With 178 votes let us celebrate our #20 Purdue ICON: Brian Cardinal, who is currently enjoying a front row seat as the Dallas Mavericks make a run toward the NBA title.
Prior to Purdue:
Cardinal hails from Illinois, where he was born on May 2, 1977. He attended Unity High in Tolono, a small town just south of Champaign and the University of Illinois. His dad is the long time athletic trainer for the Fighting Illini, so Cardinal grew up with unprecedented access to the Illinois basketball program. He was even the ballboy for their 1989 Final Four team.
In high school he played with his brother, Troy, and helped lead his team to an 86-25 record over his career. He averaged 23.5 points per game as junior and 24.1 points as a senior. He didn't draw much interest from nearby Illinois, however, and that was something that would stick with him throughout his Purdue career. He was later known to really stick it to the Fighting Illini whenever Purdue would play Illinois, especially in Champaign.
I love Cardinal as a player because you always knew you were getting his 100% maximum effort. he was rarely the most talented player on the floor, but he had the biggest heart and always hustled more than everyone else. I would take a dozen Brian Cardinal's over one primadonna one-and-done player. He is the epitome of Boilermaker basketball. In fact, the move True Grit was originally supposed to be about him and Chris Kramer.
Cardinal was a redshirt during the 1995-96 season, earning a Big Ten championship ring during our last title run prior to 2010. He made an immediate impact the next season by winning the team's Courage Award for taking the most charges. He would win this award four times in his career, setting the stage of toughness that would be later replicated by Chris Kramer.
During his redshirt freshman year he averaged 10.6 points and pulled down 182 rebounds. He embodied the toughness and the true spirit of Purdue basketball from day one. Purdue finished just 18-12, but made the NCAA Tournament and won a game over Rhode Island before falling to #1 seed Kansas in round 2.
Things appeared to fall into place the next season when Cardinal was named a team captain despite having seniors Brad Miller and Chad Austin on the team. He improved his scoring to 12 points per game and Purdue was in the Big Ten title race all year. The only non-conference setbacks were to North Carolina in the Great Alaska Shootout and Kentucky on a neutral floor in Chicago. The Boilers started the season ranked ninth and climbed as high as fifth by late in the season.
On February 18th Purdue was ranked fifth and leading the Big Ten when it traveled to Iowa. The Hawkeyes beat Purdue 88-69, then the Boilers lost at Penn state to fall off the pace in the Big Ten.
The inaugural Big Ten Tournament followed the season, and Purdue beat Indiana and Illinois to reach the final, but lost to Michigan. This loss no longer officially counts though, as Michigan was forced to abandon that season's results due to recruiting violations. Purdue still earned a #2 seed int eh NCAA Tournament and beat Delaware and Detroit before falling to Mark Madsen and Stanford 67-59 in the Sweet 16.
After losing Austin and Miller, Purdue still had high expectations in 1998-99. They started the season ranked 16th and reach the final of the NIT before losing to North Carolina again. Quite a winning streak followed and Purdue reached #8 in the polls before an 87-82 loss at Providence just before New Year's. that sent Purdue into a brutal Big Ten schedule, where we finished 7-9, but were still somehow ranked in the top 25.
Most of it was because of Cardinal. He continued to be the model of toughness on the floor by diving after loose balls, taking charges, and generally hustling his ass off. He averaged 11.4 points and earned a third team all-Big Ten selection as we made the NCAA Tournament as a #10 seed. While the bid the NCAA's was unexpected, we did some damage once we were there. Purdue beat Texas 58-54 in round one, then Cardinal scored 20 points as we upset #2 seeded Miami (FL) in round two. The run ended with a 77-55 loss to Temple in the Sweet 16, but we had exceeded expectations.
By the time Cardinal was a senior we were expecting big things. He was one of five seniors along with Greg McQuay, Mike Robinson, Chad Kerkhoff, and Jaraan Cornell. Cardinal was a second team all-Big Ten selection by averaging 13.9 points and finishing his career 1,584 points. Eh is currently 16th all-time in scoring after being passed by JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore this season, with Robbie Hummel likely to catch him this coming season. He is also sixth in career rebounds with 749, and 18th with 277 assists. He led with 259 career steals before Chris Kramer passed him during the 2009-10 season.
On the floor, Purdue had a spectacular finish after a so-so regular season. Purdue was 24-10, but lsot to North Carolina for the third straight season in an early season tournament final. This time it was in the Maui Invitational, where the Boilers upset #6 Florida to reach the championship. These two games would be big as it meant Purdue would play all four Final Four teams that season, beating three of them. Non-conference losses to North Carolina State (in the first ACC/Big Ten Challenge) Ball State, and UCLA had us under the radar in Big Ten play. The highlight was a 70-67 win over eventual champion Michigan State in Mackey Arena.
At the Big Ten tournament we would lose to Wisconsin for the second time in three games. That gave us a six seed in the NCAA Tournament, where we dodged a bullet with a one point win over Dayton. The second round saw us upset 3-seed Oklahoma 66-62. Wisconsin also upset the top seed in Arizona, while Gonzaga took out 2-seed St. John's. We were headed to the Sweet 16 with the broken bracket of our dreams.
Once there, we finally got over the Sweet 16 hump by beating Gonzaga 75-66, a rematch of a game in the NIT the previous season that we played at Mackey Arena. Wisconsin took out LSU, so we got the Badgers in the West Regional Final in Albuquerque.
I remember going home to Kokomo to watch this game with friends. It was time to go to war, because the Final Four was in Indy, we knew who the other three teams were going to be, and we were familiar with Wisconsin. We were even the higher seed, so we were slight favorites. I thought for sure we were headed to the Final Four.
Unfortunately, Dick Bennett and his excruciatingly slow offense prevailed 64-60. It is probably the most upset I have ever been after a Purdue loss. Sure, we were a mere eight months from clinching a Rose Bowl trip, but it was devastating at the time. It is the closest Purdue has come to a Final Four in the last 31 years, and one of only two times in that span we have played the Elite 8. Just like that, the memorable career of one of the toughest players to ever wear Gold and Black was over.
While Cardinal had a good, but not great college career, not a whole lot was expected for him in the NBA. He was drafted 44th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2000 NBA Draft and did what many second round picks do at first: very little. He played in just 15 games as a rookie and only 23 total for the Pistons in his first two years in the League. Detroit traded him on September 11, 2002 to the Washington Wizards, where he was waived after only five games. For many people, this would be the end of their career, but not for Cardinal.
That notorious hustle that infuriated opposing fans in the Big Ten paid off for him. He headed to Europe where he led Spain's Pamesa Valencia to the ULEB Cup Championship. This is pretty much the equivalent to soccer's Europa League championship in that it is the second highest European Championship in basketball.
His performance in Spain saved his NBA career, as the Golden State Warriors signed him for the 2003-04 season. He averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game in 76 games, but the Warriors missed the playoffs. It was this year that he was a finalist for the Most Improved Player Award and he dropped a career high 32 on the Suns. This season also made sure that the proverbial phat cash came his way.
NBA teams at the time were making it rain for even marginal players (a.k.a., the infamous Theo Ratliff's expiring contract from bill Simmons). The Memphis Grizzlies signed Brian to a contract worth about $5.5 million per year for six years, allowing Brian to cash in on all his hard work. He earned $4.9 million in the first year and $6.75 million in the final years. Unfortunately, he saw his playing time diminish each year. He played in his first seven playoff games with Memphis in 2005 and 2006, but Memphis lost all seven.
Brian was traded to Minnesota for the final two years of this contract where he only played in 93 games and averaged less than three points per game. Last season, in the final year of the deal, Minnesota even technically traded his rights to the Knicks, but he never played in New York. It looked like his career was over.
That wasn't the case, however, as the Dallas Mavericks signed him to a nice league minimum (for his experience) $1.35 million deal this season. That's not a bad bit of change to average only 11 minutes per night and 2.6 points per game in 56 games. He might even get a ring out of it too, despite playing in just four games and six total minutes in this year's playoffs. He has hit his only shot, a three-pointer, so it would be a nice way to go out.
This is why I am cheering for Dallas in the rest of the playoffs. Brian is a good guy. He and his wife Danielle (a former walk-on basketball player) are still very active in giving back to Purdue. He was a fan favorite during his playing career and the type of player that you loved to have on your team, but hated him if he wasn't He was Chris Kramer before Kramer was even in high school, and the type of guy that personified Purdue basketball. It is an honor to have him on this list.