by Kent Sterling
The question being asked most by media types covering the Big Ten Tournament is whether the seat on which Matt Painter sits is hotter than Tom Crean’s? The answer is that neither seat is hot so the question is moot.
Now, ask whether Painter or Crean will be sitting on a very hot seat in two years, and the debate begins.
I have no unique insight into the internal dialogue that may or may not be raging in Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke’s mind, but Painter is a Purdue guy who has achieved a level of success that should have bought him the kind of equity that will allow him several cracks at getting it right.
The comments that Painter made last weekend after losing the regular season finale to Northwestern show a coach who admits mistakes and has an idea of how to correct them, “First of all, it’s my fault. It’s my job to get guys to play together, it’s my job to get guys to play, it’s my job to get guys to play smart, and we don’t do any of those. And so that is my fault. When you start off, people will always give you a break. But when you’re somewhere for nine years, they shouldn’t. They absolutely shouldn’t, because it is my fault we are in this position.”
“We have to a recruit a more unselfish player, we have to recruit a tougher player. We have some of those guys in our program, some guys who don’t.
“And that’s my fault. This isn’t a school district, I recruited these guys.”
The first step to fixing a problem is identifying it, and Painter did that in no uncertain terms. From his comments, we can infer that Painter believes he has recruited kids who are selfish and weak. The correction is to recruit Purdue type guys. Programs that wander from their own culture do it at their own substantial peril, and this Boilermaker unit did not look anything like those successful teams of the past.
There is a reason it isn’t as simple as it sounds to go out and get a Chris Kramer, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, etc…, and it’s that everyone has figured out what Painter was an early adapter to – that unselfish kids who can flat shoot it win basketball games.
To be fair, most coaches have always known that, but Painter was able to build relationships with those guys while Mike Davis looked for answers in Alabama and other points south. By the time Kelvin Sampson got to Bloomington, those kids were Boiler ready, and Indiana had to troll in murky waters with impermissible phones calls for kids with strange ideas on how to spend their free time.
Once the lake with all the great fish was being depleted of its stock, Purdue lowered its standards and the result was predictable.
Painter has decided to hell with recruiting against his own instinct and culture to grab the types of kids that won championships during the 1980s and 1990s for Gene Keady.
A friend of mine who is as big a Purdue honk as there is says that he and his friend used to call Painter “the Waterbug” because of the tirelessness of his movements on the defensive end of the floor.
What Purdue needs are more waterbugs, and Painter seems to have figured out that turning great athletes into waterbugs is every bit as impossible as turning waterbugs into great athletes.
Purdue will be back to being Purdue in two years. Hopefully, Burke and the Purdue boosters who like to think they call the shots will give him the time and room to get it done.