Painter paying dividends at Purdue

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's recruiting classes have been slipping in recent years, and athletic director Morgan Burke believes he knows why.

For the last three or four seasons, competing programs have only had to point to coach Gene Keady's age to start raising doubts about the Boilermakers.

"The marketplace is operating in a way to say, 'We don't know how long you're going to be there,"' Burke said.

The strategy worked.

While other programs were signing banner classes with much-ballyhooed prep recruits, Purdue had to settle for three junior college players and one high schooler for next year's class. Junior college players are often considered high risk because of their sometimes sketchy academic history and their limited eligibility.

Burke is hoping a unique situation heading into next season will ease recruits' minds and improve Purdue's appeal to top-flight players.

After a drawn-out flirtation with the University of San Francisco, Keady decided to return for a 25th and final season in West Lafayette. His ability to persuade former Southern Illinois head coach and Purdue alum Matt Painter to take a demotion for a year made that possible.

Painter was hired as an assistant in April and will work with Keady during the coming season before taking over as head coach for the 2005-06 season.

Strengthens pitchHaving Keady's replacement already on staff has strengthened Purdue's recruiting pitch to high school players, such as those gathered in Indianapolis for the recent Nike All-America Camp.

"Now the future is clear to kids," Burke said. "They know it's Matt and Cuonzo (Martin) and Paul (Lusk)."

With players narrowing their choices at the end of their sophomore years, Burke said, removing the uncertainty is crucial for recruiting.

"The marketplace penalized Gene," Burke said. "It's penalizing Joe Paterno. As long as you're winning championships, you're OK, but every single class, other people are going to say, 'How long is he going to be there?"'

It also helps that Painter is a young, charismatic guy who can more easily relate to the recruits who weren't even close to being born when Keady took over a disheveled Purdue program 25 years ago.

Keady built the program into a perennial Big Ten title contender, winning three consecutive conference titles in the mid-1990s.

The veteran coach said wins bring the recruits, not the other way around.

"We're all considered great recruiters when we're young," Keady said. "I was a great recruiter at Arkansas and at Western Kentucky and my first years here. I think that's an overexaggerated term. If you continue to win huge, you'll always be considered a great recruiter."

Wait-and-see approachCordell Passley, a point guard who will be a freshman at Pike High School in Indianapolis, said he'll wait to see how Painter adjusts to coaching in the Big Ten before making a decision.

"It affects me in a good way and a bad way, because I do like Gene Keady," Passley sid. "I have to wait and see what the next coach is going to be like. His style, how he's going to approach things."

Luke Zeller, a 6-foot-10 forward/center from Washington, Ind., made his decision to commit to Notre Dame before Painter was hired. Purdue was also in the mix, until Keady told Zeller that he was unlikely to be the coach much longer.

"Purdue was a real option until coach Keady left. I think my coach and coach Keady are like twins," Zeller said. "But when coach Keady left, it kind of changed my mind."

Many of the players at the Nike Camp said having Keady's successor in place is a big advantage to Purdue.

"That's very comforting," said Jarod Leonard, a 6-4 shooting guard from St. Louis.

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