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No Love for Purdue

February 11, 2003 Columns No Comments


Profiling Purdue – No Love for the Boilermakers

by Michael Ermitage

There is nothing cute about Purdue University. Not its mascot, which is a train complete with an ear-ringing whistle. Not its most recognizable cheerleader – an imposing square-jawed fellow with a hammer. Not its campus – a bold dedication to engineering and architecture but missing the lush greenery of the classic university setting. And not its basketball team – a collection of bruisers and floor-divers mirrored after its anything-but-cute coach, Gene Keady.

Purdue’s blue-collar reputation and attitude has done everything this season but garner respect. Television tends to only like cute stories. Telegenic faces like Rick Pitino and Billy Donvan, Quinn Snyder and Steve Lavin. Faces that could just as easily be on daytime soap operas as ESPN’s Big Monday. Keady’s face probably would fit better in HBO’s defunct horror series, “Tales from the Crypt.” Yet, without the fanfare, the Boilermakers sit atop the Big Ten standings. After a horrific 2001-02 season, in which Purdue finished a miserable 13-18, the Boilermakers have started this season 15-5. And the turnaround is all due to the dedication, toughness and persistence of the venerable Keady.

Consider just the starting lineup that the ingenious Keady has concocted this season. It contains an academic casualty from last season who did not compete in a Big Ten game, a former walk-on turned superstar, a redshirt junior who did not play at all last season, a JUCO transfer and a Division-I transfer, both of whom did not play a minute last season. Five players and only one returning starter. Not one of them a McDonald’s All-American, not one of them even voted to the preseason All-Big Ten team.

In addition to that, Keady’s best returning player, Willie Deane, was a one-trick pony. The ultra-quick shooting guard out of New York was a pure scorer. The only other statistical category that Deane contributed to in 2001-02 was steals, due to a gambling nature on defense that yielded more opposition points than results. With this eclectic group, Keady went to work. Except preparation for this season was unlike any other. Purdue’s poor play the previous season, combined with its mid-season collapse in 2001 had the vultures swirling. “Keady can’t recruit,” they said. “Keady is too old and the game has passed him by,” they added. The pressure to perform became so intense that Keady indicated that if the 2002-03 team did not show any improvement that he may retire. And then he started making phone calls. First to his staff to instruct them to begin preparing new offensive and defensive sets and drills. Then to his current roster of players to inform them that if they did not show up to practice in a defensive stance that he would help them transfer.

After a European trip that helped establish chemistry and work habits, the team entered the season anxious to show its renewed vigor for defense and winning basketball. First came the defeat of Louisville. The highlight of which was when Darmetreis Kilgore slashed the lane for a hoop and a foul. Kilgore was another headache for Keady the previous season. The JuCo transfer came to Keady’s club after entertaining thoughts on becoming eligible for the NBA draft. His first season at Purdue was awful, as Kilgore never passed on a shot, never gave much effort to defense and looked lost in any structured play. Kilgore found himself on the wrong end of a Keady screamfest so many times that he figured Keady did not like him. But the affable senior finally understood that the old coach was just trying to improve his game. And that’s exactly what happened. So when the score-first player of a year ago repeatedly pointed at the letters on the front of his jersey after the huge three-point play against the Cardinals, it was special. A moment more than any other that proved the players had bought into the concept of “team.”

Keady didn’t just help Kilgore buy into the concept. Deane, too, has risen to the challenge. The afro-wearing former walk-on isn’t just a scorer anymore. Deane’s stat sheet is bursting at the seams. He’s averaging 17.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 2.45 assists per game and 1.7 steals per game in just 27.7 minutes per contest. Deane is giving Illinois’ all-everything Brian Cook a serious run at Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Meanwhile, Keady has coaxed former starter Brett Buscher into becoming a solid reserve off the bench and seamlessly melded three productive freshmen into the rotation. Keady’s squad has 11 players averaging 10 or more minutes a game.

At 7-2 in conference play, Purdue is not ranked in the Hoopville 25. And similarly, gets virtually no love from the Associated Press or ESPN Coaches poll. Perhaps Purdue’s brand of hard-nosed basketball isn’t pretty enough to impress the voters. But it might be Keady’s crooked grin, square chin and famous comb-over that’s staring them in the face at the end.

     

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