Perception is reality. it's true in politics. It's true in sports. Most importantly it's true in life. Whether we like it or not how people perceive us can have a great impact on our lives. If people perceive me to be a duplicitous person despite my best efforts it's hard to break that feeling. People believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see in nearly every aspect of their lives. The world of sports recruiting is no different.
Purdue isn't a flashy school. Purdue doesn't have the dusty national championship banners that other schools have. Purdue doesn't have the cool factor that a program like Kentucky does. There's no national pedigree like Duke or North Carolina. Purdue is a blue collar, lunch pail type program that gets the most out of players that buy in and play hard. The sad truth, the perception, is that this type of program can only go so far. Purdue hasn't been to the Final Four since 1980. Purdue hasn't landed an Indiana Mr. Basketball since Glenn Robinson in 1991. Purdue hasn't landed a McDonald's All-American since Mike Robinson in 1996. That's nearly 20 years. That's longer than Caleb Swanigan has been alive. You have to do something big in order to change perception. Today, Purdue did just that.
Getting a player like Caleb Swanigan will mean great things for next year's basketball team. It pushes them to a higher level of possibility and pushes them further up to that proverbial "next level". Nobody knows how the season will turn out but I think we can all agree it pushed the ceiling higher. What I do know is that Caleb Swanigan went a long way in changing the perception of both Matt Painter and Purdue Basketball. Swanigan becomes the first five star recruit to commit to Purdue under Matt Painter. Recruits want to go where they can win. Recruits want to go where they can be showcased and move to the next level. I don't know if Swanigan will be at Purdue for just one year or even all four but his legacy should help Matt Painter recruit for the foreseeable future.
Recruiting can be a bit like a giant game of dominos. If you remember the recruitment of the Baby Boilers things started slow and then immediately all the pieces seemed to fall into place. While Purdue is full for next year's squad it doesn't mean that other recruits, more high profile recruits, won't take a second look at Purdue. For too long the knock on Painter by a large portion of the Boilermaker fanbase was that Painter couldn't land the big fish. That was the perception of him and the perception became reality. Everyone knew that Painter couldn't land a five star recruit so anytime Purdue got involved with a big name invariably Purdue fans felt like Charlie Brown getting the football pulled out from under them. But, just like Charlie Brown always believes the football will be there to kick, Matt Painter always believed he could recruit his way with the big boys.
Matt Painter is perceived by many to be too honest. Too blunt. Too truthful about the way the program is run and what would be expected of said player. The big name players want to be pampered and promised things that Painter just won't promise, or so the narrative of college basketball recruiting says. There's no guarantee of playing time at Purdue. There's no promise of x number of minutes. At Purdue you have to earn your playing time and Painter isn't afraid to tell people that. The last couple of years you've read interviews with Painter stating he needs more "Purdue guys" and guys who truly buy into the system. He credits his moving away from these types of players with the recent NCAA drought that the 2014-2015 team broke. To me this signifies that Painter believes that Caleb Swanigan is a "Purdue guy". He's a guy who's going to put in the work, who's going to play defense, and who's going to earn his minutes.
For today at least Purdue is cool. Purdue is big time. It's up to Caleb Swanigan and Matt Painter to keep it that way. In order to build on this perception Caleb Swanigan needs to succeed. Purdue doesn't have to win the NCAA Tournament (though that would be nice) or even get to the Final Four (again, nice) but the team does have to produce some meaningful result with Swanigan starring along the way. If that happens, it could be the final step in changing the perception of Purdue. If that happens with Painter behind the bench this team could be trouble for years to come.