Last year, returning to Milwaukee after a two game sweep in the NCAA’s the year previous, Purdue was taking on a talented Marquette team. Grady Eifert, former walk-on, was stepping to the line to take a free throw.
It was that Purdue team’s first test of the year. They were a team filled with seniors, and yet, the junior was still getting minutes as something of a gimmick. A former walk-on, who played hard and right, who didn’t make mistakes and played pretty good defense. It seemed like one of those early season nods or experiments. He’s a good kid, let him have a few minutes before it really mattered.
He would air ball that free throw. There’s a world where that might be the analogy we use for the rest of his career.
Instead, Eifert got right back to the line, four more times, knocking all of them down. In 24 minutes (career-high) he would score 9 points, grabbed 4 boards, and 2 assists.
And that’s the metaphor, that’s Grady Eifert, continuously coming at you, carrying tags like walk-on and ‘not good enough’ or ‘not big enough’ or ‘play Wheeler instead’ and continuously rising to the occasion and out shooting all expectations.
He was still just a side piece his junior year, not breaking double-digit most games, but when Vincent Edwards went out with injury it was Grady Eifert who filled the starting role. It was Grady Eifert who got more minutes, alongside Matt Haarms, in their round of 32 NCAA tournament game against Butler and his defense and rebounding was one of the biggest reasons Purdue won that game.
But still, coming into the senior season, his ascension into the starting lineup seemed like another gimmick. He was one of just two seniors on the roster, so of course, Coach Painter tagged him for the starting gig, but with an athletic phenom behind him in Aaron Wheeler, and a bevy of talented youngins, this was surely just for show and would barely last into B10 conference play.
Now fast forward to the Ohio State game, where Purdue has oscillated between not ready to play and dominant, and back to not ready. It’s not Carsen Edwards that’s knocking down a key late three, it’s Grady Eifert. One of three 3’s he hits on the day. He’s added that to his game, you see, 17-41 on the year, that .415% from deep is just outside of the top 200 for three point shooting in the nation. He had taken 6 threes his entire career before.
You see, the Grady Eifert thing isn’t just a cute story. It isn’t a ‘walk-on’ story. It’s a basketball story, about a player who has transformed himself into a 20+ a minute wing/forward hybrid that’s helped stabilized a Purdue team that shouldn’t be this good. That definitely wouldn’t be this good without Eifert.
Because Grady Eifert is damn good. It just so happens he’s not only damn good, he’s damn good while being the hardest worker on the floor as Matt Haarms told Journal and Courier before their game at the Crossroads Classic, “A guy that works that hard, you can always trust. I’ve never seen Grady take a play off, even in practice.”
It’s no surprise that as Michigan St. made their surge back, it was Eifert who put the final nail in the coffin with a steal. In the biggest games this season the senior has come up the biggest. His third steal of the game was a pure hustle and smarts play, sticking to his man, and reading the pass, exploding forward and taking the ball because he wanted it more.
The Boilers have been better with Grady Eifret on the court, point blank. Of the regular five starters for Purdue, it isn’t Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline or Nojel Eastern with the best +/-. It’s Grady Eifert at 9.4.
He’s been so good in fact that a strange thing is happening on the internet. People are admitting they were wrong. While Wheeler’s play continues to improve and he certainly looks like the kind of tantalizing athlete Purdue doesn’t usually have and definitely the future, Eifert has been a driving hand in making a promising future turn into a successful present.
The Boilers have won five straight, including two road wins, and knocking off Sparty. They’re one of the hottest teams in the country after looking like a team that might miss the tournament in March.
Coach Painter’s faith in Eifert has paid off, and the Boilers are once again rolling into February with a team that’s starting to feel a little special.
Grady Eifert is more than a glue guy now, but make no mistake, he holds the team together.