The big news in college basketball right now has nothing to do with on court drama. Instead, a spiral of FBI leaks has led to one program’s coach to sit out as his name is ‘cleared’, and for other fan bases to ctrl f through the leaked Yahoo documents, worried but also accepting that almost without a doubt, one of their players or coaches will be brought up.
When you google Purdue Basketball Scandal, the internet only shows articles of Purdue’s reaction to other teams. Coach Painter hopes it cleans up the sport. Mitch Daniels hopes the same - if not with a bit more antiquity to his dream college sports world.
While Izzo and his players continuously dodge PR bullets after threatening to morally bankrupt itself as a university, Purdue’s four seniors and Coach Painter continue their one true pursuit: breaking the curse of what it means to be Purdue.
But what it means to be Purdue is also the magic of these four seniors preparing for their final Mackey send off. It means doing things the right way. Let me take a second to say, I’m not here to be on a high-horse. I’m not here to say, players should not receive more of the pot.
I’m here to say, in this age, where seemingly every team is implemented in some way - small or large - it is becoming increasingly rare that a school does things the right way. That a coach holds itself to the rigorous and altruistic nature of following code - even if the code itself is outdated and occasionally bad. That it’s just as rare that 16, 17, 18 year old kids don’t also fall to the pressures and enticing propositions that are offered to them by coaches, agents, and shoe companies.
There’s not a better example of the purity of college basketball than Purdue’s four seniors. P. J. Thompson entered Purdue as a player that no one believed anything of. He didn’t look like a college player. He didn’t look like someone that could make an impact. He’s started for three years now. He will retire with the best assist to turnover rate in the history of the program. He has hit big shot after big shot.
And there’s not been a more consistently maligned Boilermaker by their faithful than Isaac Haas. A true giant, standing at 7’2”, who has done nothing but carried the weight of other team’s big men, his own team, and, most importantly, his sister’s epilepsy. He has dealt with these things with the grace of a dancer. He has done it with a smile on his face.
There was a time where Dakota Mathias looked like a slow-footed, in the mold of DJ Byrd, Ryne Smith shooter that would be a nice player, but always limited by his ability to stand up to real college athletes. He’s now the best perimeter defender in the B10. He has been for two years. Coach Painter has called him the best passer he’s ever recruited, but it’s that shot that will put him in Boilermaker record. He’s got a chance to leave Purdue as the all-time leader in 3-pointers.
For a school that is considered such a consistent let down in March, Vincent Edwards has been nothing short of incredible in the NCAA tournaments. He’s averaged 17.6 ppg, 8 rpg, and 3.4 apg. If anything, this recent injury has reminded Purdue fans of the small things Vincent does for this team. He’s vital for their defense and by far Purdue’s best rebounder. He’s the swiss-army knife, the man helping to make Haas’ life easier with spacing and filling in the holes the team has.
But for Purdue, it is about the collective. These four players came together at a time Purdue basketball did not mean what it does today. It’s easy to forget how not that long ago Purdue was finishing last in the B10 and done playing before March heated up.
And now, it’s on these four seniors to finish the job. Make no mistake about it though. As Arizona waits to find out if their current coach will keep his ability to coach in the NCAA’s, as Rick Pitino remains a lone martyr for the oblivious, as Tom Izzo turns a blind-eye to anything but winning, and Louisville takes down its banner, Coach Painter found four seniors who wanted something more than to cash a check or hang a banner.
They wanted to represent a school with defined principles and to play for a coach that could have easily been pressured into the dark corners of college basketball. Instead, he found the stars that have guided Purdue back to prominence.
There are just six letters on the front of their jerseys, they will wear them proudly for the last time in Mackey Arena in just a few hours. Those letters P-U-R-D-U-E mean more now because of their contributions, as players, but mostly, as people and pillars to a community and program that has not fallen like so many others.
And that is beautiful.