Welcome to Sunday. For most of us, that means tomorrow is Monday (tomorrow is Monday for all of us, but it means something a little different for you folks with 9-5’s) and a return to the grind. To kill the time while time slowly kills us, it’s time to once again ponder the Matt Painter era at Purdue.
Who do you have on the Mt. Rushmore of Matt Painter players. I’m looking for your 4 most important players, not necessarily the best or most talented, but most important.
With the caveat that these are the most important players of the Painter era I want it known that I don’t think these are the best players of the Painter era. These are in no particular order.
E’Twaun Moore - Moore was really the first highly ranked recruit that Painter nabbed and he gave Painter credibility that he could grab big names and shepherd them to the NBA. His success at Purdue was incredibly influential.
Caleb Swanigan - McDonald’s All-American, highly ranked, stolen away from Michigan State. Similar to Moore, the signing of Swanigan sent a message that Purdue could be a place where big recruits go to thrive.
Rapheal Davis - Davis wasn’t the biggest name recruit nor did he light up the Purdue record books. However, what he did do was change the culture. Purdue finished at the bottom of the conference when he arrived. They haven’t been back there since. Everyone always points to Davis’ leadership as a huge reason for that turnaround.
Chris Kramer - When you only get four spots if makes it incredibly hard to determine where to go. Kramer belongs here because he set the tone for what Purdue basketball would be under Matt Painter. Kramer was lightly recruited but came in and set the conference ablaze. His hard nosed defense would set the template for the next 10 years of Purdue basketball.
This is a neat question because it isn’t about the best but about the most important and I think that includes some players who may be overlooked. Let’s get into it!
Robbie Hummel: Listen, we all know how important the Baby Boilers were to the rebirth of Purdue basketball. It’s been discussed at length time and time again but what Hummel has done after his playing career is incredibly important to the persona of what Purdue Basketball and Coach Painter is. As a nationally recognized personality in college basketball, anytime he is on a podcast, on a network in studio, or calling a game, it’s a chance to hear about Purdue Basketball. He is a ‘cool’ personality in the college game right now and for a program that has struggled with ‘cool’ for decades, that importance can’t be overstated.
Jaden Ivey: This is an important one, not because of the player Ivey became but because of the bookends of his time at Purdue. Ivey was known as an athletic player but Painter tabbed him early on as a priority and his entry to Purdue wasn’t one that was thought to end up with him being a top 5 pick and an All NBA Rookie Team type first season. This is a player that Painter can point directly to with the importance of athletic wings about what they can do to develop those players. It’s also important because Ivey is going to be a dude who is going to be a start in the NBA for a decade or more. With E’Twaun’s exit being a solid role player type, having a guy like Jaden be a start in the league helps with recruiting and the ‘coolness’ of the program. Bring him back as much as possible, get him on the video board, and let him meet recruits as much as possible over the next 20+ years.
Caleb Swanigan: This is one again where this isn’t about the player he was while at Purdue or afterwards, this is more about Purdue finally starting to breakthrough on these nationally relevant type of reruiting battles. Biggie was a top 20 recruit and that is a level of recruiting Purdue doesn’t enter into all that often but with Biggie it showed those kinds of players can be incredibly successful at Purdue. Since his recruitment, we have seen Purdue more often involved right in the middle of those kinds of players and although they aren’t always able to secure their commitment, being right there is better than not at all. Jaran Jackson Jr., Flory Bidunga, Xavier Booker, and a host of others show that Purdue is right there and just need to continue on their path of improvement. As Gonzaga has shown, sometimes the building to get into that elite grouping can take a long time and Purdue appears to be on that path with the recruitment and commitment of the next player on this list.
Kanon Catchings: It’s probably a bit premature to put a guy on this list who hasn’t even played a second of ball at Purdue and arguably won’t even be on campus for another year and half, but this is the type of player that can turn the tide for the program at Purdue. This is a player that Coach Painter and his staff have been recruiting for years, even dating back to middle school during elite camps at Purdue in the summer. Catchings has steadily gone up the rankings and recently shot up to 17th overall on 247. This shows that Painter has the ability to tab these kinds of guys early on and get their commitment based on the success of the program. A player of Catchings’ caliber doesn’t come along very often to Purdue but the track record with them getting to the the NBA because of the development that occurs is evident. It also should be highlighted that where Purdue has lacked in their ability to get over the proverbial ‘hump’ into that elite classification is the very player that Catchings is: a tall, athletic, high ceiling player at the wing who needs some help developing his game. That’s what Catchings said in an interview with me about what sold him on Purdue (along with his relationship with Assistant Coach Brandon Brantley). Getting him on campus would be a clear indication of Painter’s priority to improve what has held Purdue back for the last decade: star players on the wing.
Ronnie Johnson: Now, I know what you are all thinking here. Why am I including a point guard who claimed he had too much sauce for the Purdue program and eventually transferred out to Houston in this list? Allow me to explain that Ronnie may in fact be the most important player Painter has ever brought into his program because of the apparant chaos and struggles that he brought about.
Johnson was a highly touted player in the class of 2012 that included AJ Hammons and Rapheal Davis while also being the younger brother of established program player Terone Johnson. But, what RJ really wasn’t was a good program fit for Purdue and Coach Painter. It was noted that Johnson just didn’t fit into what Purdue was trying to do and caused a lot of friction in the program likely led to the widely known personality tests that are now used when players are being heavily recruited by Purdue. These have helped build the incredibly culture around the program that has been noted by players and parents alike, specifically Julia Edey (mother of Zach Edey). In a sense, you could argue that Ronnie Johnson may in fact be the most important player in the Matt Painter era up to this point.
Editor’s Note: Jed, Mt. Rushmore only has four heads. Aren’t you a teacher?
Raphael came in when Purdue was at an all time low losing to Wofford at home in the CBI tournament. He’s accredited to helping change the culture of the program moving forward and improve the lock room discourse.
I know he got hurt and it’ll always be a “what could’ve been” but Hummel still remains an iconic player to me. He has turned into one of the best cbb analysts out there and represents the university well.
The way Carsen played and performed put Purdue on the map and helped with recruiting. I know Ivey said he was a big reason he chose Purdue. It’s been 5 years since his tournament run and you still see the highlights shared every March.
One of the most sought out recruits and not only did we land him, we took him away from MSU. It showed Purdue can get those guys and ended up a first round draft pick.
First is Carsen Edwards. This is the easiest pick of all, considering most of the CMP criticism revolves around a lack of tournament success. The lone March he has to lean on, I’m convinced Carsen Edwards could have carried my middle school team to the Elite 8, so he is undoubtedly Painter’s most important player.
Second is Zach Edey. The Painter support generally revolves around his ability to recruit players that aren’t necessarily highly sought after, and Zach is the poster child for his philosophy. I keep praising Zach because I think a lot of people take for granted what they are watching with him. He’s Painter’s Glenn Robinson.
Another defining characteristic of the Matt Painter era has been consistency. Although it came very close to being called into question in 2014 after consecutive losing seasons. So the 3rd most important player in the CMP era is AJ Hammons, the man who helped pull us out of the dog days in 2014. Had AJ not finished his career by leading the Boilers in scoring in 2015 and 2016 and beginning the current streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Purdue may not have the program we are blessed with today.
Lastly, we all know what matters in sports at the end of the day, and that’s hardware. Robbie Hummel helped lead Coach Painter’s first Big Ten title and tournament winning squads, establishing CMP as a guy who could get the job done very early in his career. As a result, he gets the last carving into my Matt Painter Mt. Rushmore, but just by a hair over guys like Caleb Swanigan, E’twaun Moore, and Chris Kramer.
Carl Landry - You want to talk about a player helping to pull Purdue out of the depths of despair, it’s Carl Landry. Matt Painter went 9-19 in his first season as head coach. Landry and David Teague both missed the 05-06 season, both came back with a vengeance in the 06’-’07 season. I could have easily gone with Teague but Landry averaged 19-7 and was named All-Big 10 first team. Purdue finished the season 22-12 and gave eventual National Champion Florida a run before eventually falling 74-67. This team announced Purdue was back after the horror of the waning Keady years, and Landry was key in that declaration.
Scott Martin - The 6’8” lefty out of Valpo went on to have a solid career at Notre Dame after fighting through knee injuries. Individually he’s not that important, but consider the Baby Boilers with either Indianapolis native Jeff Teague or Connorsville native Matt Howard at center. Purdue took Martin with their last scholarship and didn’t have room for either. Martin would last 1 season at Purdue, Teague would go on to star at Wake Forrest and then in the NBA. Matt Howard went on to anchor 2 final 4 Butler teams. With either on the roster, Purdue is a National Championship favorite.
A.J. Hammons - The 4* recruit out of Oak Hill Academy came in during the dark age of the Painter era and gave the team a focus. Painter’s shift to a post oriented offense and away from the more traditional most sets starts with A.J. When locked in, he may be the most physically talented big man in the Painter era, capable of dominating games on both ends of the floor with his post game and shot blocking. He was the leading scorer and rebounder on back to back tournament teams. If Matt didn’t land Hammons, would he be the Purdue coach today?
Carsen Edwards - For a brief moment, Purdue was the most fun team to watch in college basketball, and that was all due to Edwards. His unshakable confidence, paired with Matt Haarms not being a back to the basket center opened up Purdue’s offense and had the entire tournament talking about the cocky (in a good way) point guard out of Texas. His performance against UVA is one of the best you’ll ever see out of a college player. At the same time, he showed us that Purdue is capable of playing and up-tempo style when forced into a corner (anyone got a nice corner to force Matt Painter into?)