Tonight is a bit of a bittersweet night, as it is the final home game of the 2016-17 season (although a victory technically clinches an NIT berth in the highly unlucky scenario Purdue is not chosen as an at large team). That means we say goodbye to our seniors. This year’s senior class is a bit strange. We were supposed to be saying goodbye to Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman, and Bryson Scott. They all entered Purdue as four-star top 100 players in the recruiting class of 2013 with a ton of promise.
None of them are seniors this year, instead, and all three have since left the program.
Bryson is at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, averaging 16.7 points per game for a team that could make the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit League Tournament. Stephens is sitting out his transfer year at Nevada after falling in the lineup last season and transferring. Smotherman was booted from the team in January after redshirting last season.
It is hard to believe that all three players, who once played major minutes for Purdue, will not be honored tonight. Instead, we will be honoring a walk-on who has worked hard behind the scenes for five years now and a 5th year transfer who spent only a year in West Lafayette.
Jon McKeeman – 6’1” guard – Fort Wayne, Indiana
I remember the first time McKeeman was even on the roster. He was a midseason addition during the 2012-13 season and was spotted during warm-ups of the Michigan game that year. People noticed a new number in the lineup and wondered who he was. He wasn’t even in the program that night. We later found out it was a Mckeeman, a freshman from Carroll HS outside of Fort Wayne.
Jon played a single minute that year. He got in during the final minute of that season’s CBI win over Western Illinois. Since then he has twice been on the Big Ten All-Academic team as he earned his degree in movement and sport sciences with a 3.97 GPA. An early season injury last year forced him to redshirt, but that paid off in the end. Since Purdue had some extra scholarships lying around this season Jon returned and got a free year of grad school for his troubles. He has also twice been the league’s Distinguished Scholar, and he is using this year to apply to med school.
As is true for most walk-ons, McKeeman has played very little in his career. As a sophomore he played in five games and scored five points, all of them in a blowout win over Central Connecticut State. Two years ago as a junior he got in five more games, but did not score. This season Purdue’s blowouts have allowed him to be a victory cigar of sorts. He has made it into 14 games for 27 total minutes. He has doubled his career scoring with five more points.
The goal tonight is to win the Big Ten title, but hopefully we are up by enough in the end to get McKeeman some playing time. He hasn’t scored since hitting a late three-pointer against Utah State, and Mark Titus would approve as he has a total of 10 trillion in appearances.
Spike Albrecht – 6’ guard – Crown Point, Indiana – The old man of the Big Ten, Spike Albrecht feels like he was destined to play for Purdue even though he spent one season in West Lafayette as a 24-year-old grad student. This is technically his 6th season after high school, as he spent his first year at Northfield Mount Hermon Prep after graduating from Crown Point HS. He then burst on the scene as a walk-on at Michigan with an unlikely performance during their NCAA Tournament run. He played in all 39 games, but only averaged 2.2 points per game. When called upon during the National Championship game against Louisville he went all Jimmy Chitwood, hitting four of five three-pointers for 17 points as Michigan came up just short.
Over the next two years at Michigan he earned more playing time, eventually averaging 7.5 points in 2014-15 as a junior, but double hip surgery that offseason limited him to eight games last season as a senior. He would graduate from Michigan, and when the NCAA said he could come back for one more season he transferred as a graduate to Purdue.
Spike has not done much scoring here. He has scored 38 points in 22 games and even missed a bunch due to a back injury. He has struggled with his shot, going just 9 of 36 from the floor and 4 of 23 from three. What he has given Purdue is a calm, steady presence at the point and leadership off the bench.
We have been asked many times this season why he is still playing at all. Well, there are two reasons. First, Purdue is only at 8 scholarship players that are healthy right now. Spike averages almost 13 minutes a night, so the 13 minutes he comes in are 13 minutes of rest that can be doled out to others. Second, he is a senior who knows his role. Often that role is to handle the ball, make a hustle play or two, and not screw up. He has 29 assists to 9 turnovers this year. He is not lighting up the scorebook, but he is giving Purdue valuable minutes.
Spike will play tonight, and he will play hard. He fits the Purdue mold because he is a hard-nosed kid that will play literally until his body fails him. Even though we had him for just a year, we’re grateful for his contributions.
Caleb Swanigan – 6’9” Forward – Ft. Wayne, Indiana – We would be remiss if we did not address the elephant in the room here. He won’t get a framed jersey tonight and a post-game ceremony, but it seems very likely that tonight is also the final game in Mackey Arena for Caleb Swanigan. Despite two sub-par (for him, anyway) games in a row it is increasingly likely that Biggie will be off to the NBA once the season ends. Many draft boards have him as a first round pick and that makes it likely he is gone after just two years in West Lafayette.
While he won’t get the post-game ceremony, he will get much more. Swanigan is virtually a lock to get his name in the rafters as an All-American. He already has Purdue’s single-season rebounding record. He needs 114 points in the remaining games this season to become the 52nd player in Purdue history with 1,000 career points (Isaac Haas needs just 17 points to be the 51st).
I could go on and on with the honors Caleb has already won or will win. The point is that tonight we need to savor the moment. A Big Ten title could be clinched, but we also could be saying goodbye to a Purdue legend. Let’s send him out right.