By DOUG GRIFFITHS
ISL Assistant Editor
This morning, IndySportsLegends.com interviewed long-time Purdue radio play-by-play announcer Larry Clisby to get his thoughts on the Boilermakers as they prepare for third-ranked Indiana tonight in Mackey Arena.
Following is what Clisby, the “Voice of the Boilermakers,” had to say about Purdue, who is 11-9 this season.
IndySportsLegends.com: Do you like the pieces Matt Painter has in place? Everyone envisioned this year’s freshman class having an impact like Hummel, Moore and Johnson’s, but do you think think the future looks pretty bright for the Boilermakers?
Clisby: “Oh yes. I think when you get next year’s class in there and another year of experience. When you add Jay Simpson (who is redshirting this season) and you bring in next year’s class, then you’re talking about having a really good ball club.
“In two years, you’ll be back to being a top-10 team as long as everybody stays in place.
“I love Ronnie (Johnson) at the point. A.J. (Hammons) has a tremendous upside and so does Rapheal (Davis). Donnie (Hale) looks like he’s coming on and Terone (Johnson) is going to be around for another year and then you bring in some of these other guys so I think you’ll be in great shape.”
IndySportsLegends.com: Do you think Painter is pretty happy at Purdue, especially since the university made a huge commitment to he and his staff along with the program?
Clisby: “I’m sure he’s happy from a security standpoint, but I don’t think he’s ever happy being 11-9.
“We would like to be playing better basketball, but to Purdue fans I would say we’re kind of like where Indiana was a couple years ago with some really good pieces. We just need a little experience and to go through it and see what happens.”
IndySportsLegends.com: Is the commitment from the university now where it needs to be?
Clisby: “I’m around the coaches a lot and I know they don’t have any problems with what the school is doing for them.
“The coaches are trying to be as good as they can be. They want to make sure they hit on recruiting and things are available to do it and I think all those things are in place.”
IndySportsLegends.com: How does Mackey Arena now stack up since Purdue invested $100 million into it compared to other Big Ten and venues across the country?
Clisby: “It’s exponential. What we did was incredible, but anybody who comes on top of us will be better and put more money invested in our league.
“You become outdated in a hurry. We’re not, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying in a few years you could be. That’s how quick it goes.
“We were just in Ann Arbor and without question I thought Crisler Arena was the biggest dump in the Big Ten and was for years. It always took a backseat to football, but my goodness have they made an incredible transformation. It blew me away. It’s unbelievable.
“To the credit of Purdue people, Mackey has always been kept in great shape no matter how outdated it was. Some of these other places haven’t been.
“Purdue has all those things in place.
“In my time in this league, which has been 35 years, look at all the differences in facilities. It’s an arms race in college sports and I think it’s only going to get worse.”
IndySportsLegends.com: With Purdue fans the near-misses in recruiting hurt and still sting to this day. How much have those near-misses hurt whether we’re talking about Gary Harris or Branden Dawson at Michigan State or Glenn Robinson III at Michigan?
Clisby: “I think it’s silly to dwell on it. No one is offering excuses. You just go back to work and see what you can do.
“People out there are going to say you can’t do this or you can’t do that. I think our staff feels like they can do things.
“When people throw out things like, ‘Well, but so and so is doing this or so and so is doing that,’ to me that’s just all excuses.
“They are pretty good players.
“There is also an understanding that if a guy has a Purdue connection that he should come to Purdue and if he doesn’t that’s a reflection of your staff and they don’t know how to sell the university. I think that is so out of line with reality.
“Kids are different. I can understand a kid not wanting to play where his mom played or where his dad played.
“You also have to understand how we evaluate talent now. We do it a little bit earlier because we have to. People say, ‘Kentucky can wait until two months before signing date.’ Yes, they can. Why? Because they’re only recruiting the top eight players in America.
“When you’re recruiting against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, among others, it’s a little different story.
“I don’t object with the way they’re doing it.
“When you’re talking about legacy recruiting, yes we missed on Harris and Robinson, but we didn’t miss on Kendall Stephens and nobody talks about that.”
IndySportsLegends.com: Do you think not having played in a Final Four since 1980 continues to hurt Purdue significantly when it comes to recruiting and it will continue to hurt until the Boilermakers get to another one?
Clisby: “I don’t agree with that. One Final Four is not going to make you a national power.
“Look what Bo Ryan has done at Wisconsin. How many Final Fours has he been to? Zero, but he has a tremendous program and is always in the running in the Big Ten and he has pretty much the same kind of drive and philosophy that Coach (Gene) Keady had.
“We had opportunities as has Bo. They’ve come close as did Gene.
“I’m a believer in coaches. Coaches make programs. I don’t think programs make coaches, but there are legacy programs like Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville, UCLA, Indiana and we have some new ones like Michigan State because of Tom Izzo and Connecticut, which did an incredible job when Jim Calhoun was there.
“Purdue has a great basketball tradition. Matt is a very, very good coach. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but to suggest getting to one Final Four is going to make that big of a difference, I would say you have to get there two, three and maybe four times.
“Look at Tom Izzo. He’s been to six Final Fours. How many national titles has he won? One. How many of the five-star recruits is Tom Izzo getting and any kid would say that’s one heck of a program.
“I think the rich get richer and everybody else keeps going at them.
“I like our effort, and I think we’ll be fine. We have some really good players in the program, have had some really good players in the past and I think Coach Painter does a wonderful job.
“To suggest we can become Kansas or Duke overnight is asking an awful lot.”
IndySportsLegends.com: Some believe the Indiana-Purdue rivalry will never be the same without Bob Knight and Keady. What do you think?
Clisby: “I really don’t know. The thing that made Knight and Keady so incredible was that they were two coaches you knew would never move. Will (Tom) Crean or Painter ever move? I don’t know. They’re both young guys.
“The Purdue-Indiana rivalry became the Gene Keady-Bob Knight rivalry and that’s when it was the best in my opinion.
“What has hurt the rivalry without question is we’ve had this uneven, choppiness where one team is much better than the other so we haven’t had where every year you’re going toe-to-toe with pretty much the same idea of you’re going to win at home and they’re going to win at home. If you won at the other guy’s place, it was an upset. That’s not the case now.
“Prior to last year, Purdue had won five of six. At the end of Keady’s tenure, Indiana won nine of 11.
“Until we get back to the point where it’s not a big upset for one of the teams to win, which you will get to that point if both Crean and Painter stay and I see no reason that they won’t it will be back to where it was.”
IndySportsLegends.com: Off the top of your head, what are your top five Purdue-Indiana moments?
Clisby: “No. 1 was 1992 the upset with Craig Riley and Woody Austin in the game at Mackey after they beat us 106-65 (in Assembly Hall). Chad Austin’s game-winning shots (in 1996 and 1997 in Assembly Hall). You have to put the chair game in there in 1985. And don’t forget Ryan Berning and Dave Barrett’s game in Assembly Hall in 1990 (when Purdue won in overtime) and Indiana has like a 17-point lead in that game. Those are the games that standout to me.
“Others would have to be Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell or Everette Stephens winning at home in 1987 or 1988 or Big Dog and that group winning at home in 1994.”