By CLIFF BRUNT
When I came to Indiana in May 2005 to write for The Associated Press, my excitement was almost entirely focused on covering the Indiana Pacers.
And why wouldn’t it be? The Pacers were coming off the brawl season, but everybody (except the retired Reggie Miller) was back, and they were expected to make numerous title runs with Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley leading the way.
We all know how that turned out.
Meanwhile, there was also this additional responsibility – covering Purdue athletics.
The basketball team had, for the most part, fallen off the wagon. Gene Keady had just retired and some guy named Matt Painter was taking over. Didn’t seem like there was all that much to get fired up about at the time.
Very quickly, I learned that covering Purdue basketball, and basketball in any capacity in the state of Indiana, is a very special thing.
As I prepare to cover my final Purdue basketball game tonight against Maryland-Eastern Shore before heading to work for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City, I want to share a few thoughts with the fans.
It has been a privilege to watch Painter build the program. I enjoyed watching JaJuan Johnson go from a skinny non-starter to an All-American, witnessed a transformation as E’Twaun Moore reined in his game just enough to become an NBA player, and of course, saw Robbie Hummel go from two ACL tears to the NBA. I appreciate how Carl Landry and David Teague laid the foundation and Chris Kramer’s tenacity took it up a notch. I felt the vibe as the fans embraced the lunchpail guys — the Bobby Riddells, Bubba Days and Sandi Marciuses. It’s all what makes Purdue hoops and its fans special. They believe in hard work, resilience and humility. It comes across in the strength of their program and in the people their fans embrace most.
I started Indy Sports Legends because I wanted to stay in the game after my position was downsized in Indianapolis, but also because there was a void in coverage. The Boilermakers simply didn’t get the coverage IU got. I won’t get into the reasons for that, but it’s a fact. Though the people who covered Purdue did a good job of it, I thought there was room for more.
My very first story for Indy Sports Legends in May 2012 explained the story behind a Twitpic I took of Hummel shooting free throws late at night after a tough game the year before (here’s the story). The pic got over 10,000 views. Turns out, the story got more than 8,000. To this day, that very first story is the most viewed in ISL history.
Once that happened, I realized something. My connection with Purdue fans was far more special than even I had realized. My instincts about starting the site were right. More and more people started telling me how the site was needed and the perspective was welcome. ISL’s twitter following nearly doubled in the 18 months after I left the AP, and most of those additional 1,000 followers were Purdue fans.
I want to take this time to thank the Purdue fans who have, more than any other group of people, made ISL what it is. You respected my AP work for years, then embraced our other writers. I treated this like it was a big-time site, and you all treated it that way, too.
We’ve drawn 355,000 pageviews, and we’re not done. Chris Goff (chrisgoff_ISL) will take over as the new editor, and I’ve got someone in mind to take over as the Purdue writer. I will be involved with the site, but in an advisory role. I hope you all will continue to check us out.
In the meantime, I leave you with the Purdue games I will remember most as I head to the Sooner State. Thanks again!
Purdue 73, Northwestern 50, Senior Day
March 4, 2007
David Teague showed out.
Purdue had struggled for several years, but things were finally starting to turn for Painter. Purdue entered this game seeking its 20th win of the season.
Teague, a senior shooting guard, took out his cornrows and unveiled an impressive six-inch afro, then put up 23 points and eight rebounds and led Purdue to victory in his final home game. He told me afterwards that he played with a $20 bill in his left shoe to signify what he fully expected to be the 20th win of the year.
He was money. The swagger Teague showed that day has remained with the program. More than anyone else, Teague and Carl Landry were the players who led the program’s resurgence.
That day also marked the last time Teague and I did our usual pregame routine. Each home game during his senior season, he would find me on press row and ask, “What you gonna write about today?” and I would always answer, “Give me something to write about!” He almost always delivered, and he certainly did that afternoon.
Purdue 60, No. 11 Wisconsin 56
Jan. 26, 2008
This was a huge step towards credibility for the program. Wisconsin entered the contest on a 10-game win streak. Hummel, a freshman at the time, had 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a game-winning block against Michael Flowers. He got the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to seal the deal.
Fans stormed the court for the first time during Painter’s tenure.
“I didn’t see them come down, I just got mobbed,” Hummel said that day. “It was awesome. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had on a basketball court. It was crazy.”
Purdue 76, Ohio State 63
Feb. 20, 2011
E’Twaun Moore scored 38 points against the nation’s No. 2 team. He did it all – acrobatic layups, long 3s, even a jumper at the end of the first half — in his fluid and effortless way. He toyed with David Lighty, one of the Big Ten’s best defensive guards, and it didn’t even look like he broke a sweat.
Moore surpassed 2,000 career points during a flurry of 13 in the final 3:49 of the first half, becoming the fifth player in school history to reach the milestone.
He scored the 38 points on only 18 field-goal attempts, highlighting his startling transformation from the sometimes reckless player who came to campus as a freshman to the efficient assassin who was drafted by the Boston Celtics and now plays for the Orlando Magic.
Purdue 77, West Virginia 62
Jan. 1, 2010
This game stole headlines on one of the biggest football days of the year.
Both teams were unbeaten heading into this game, and there was concern as to whether Purdue could handle West Virginia’s size and athletic ability.
Johnson took care of all those questions with a 25-point dunkfest. The Boilermakers led by as many as 26 points in a win that gave the Boilermakers a right to at least claim it deserved to be in the conversation for a No. 1 ranking.
My colleague, Jim Johnson, asked Painter if the Boilers should be in that mix, and he said the following:
“We have to prove ourselves and be more consistent,” he said. “We’re getting into league play. We’ll see how we play on the road.”
Unfortunately, Hummel tore his ACL the next month, and that question was no longer relevant. Still, this was a huge victory for the Purdue program, the kind it had sought since its famed recruiting class hit campus.
Purdue 65, Ohio State 61, Big Ten championship game
March 15, 2009
This was the greatest accomplishment for the then-sophomore combination of Moore, Hummel and Johnson. The win became more significant over time because that trio wasn’t together nearly as much as it should have been. Hummel’s two ACL tears took care of that.
Moore scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, Johnson scored 16 points and Hummel had nine points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Hummel was the tournament’s most outstanding player and Johnson and Moore were on the all-tournament team, all as sophomores.
What I remember most about this was Painter’s reaction when I asked him what it meant to see this group work together and go from having great potential to accomplishing something big. He nearly choked up.
“It was really huge to land these three guys, because really when they committed to us, we were in last place in the Big Ten,” he said at the time. “These guys made decisions, in my opinion, for the right reasons, because there was a need for them.”
Ohio State 70, Purdue 66
Jan. 12, 2010
This was truly an epic showdown between Hummel and Ohio State’s Evan Turner.
Hummel dropped six 3-pointers in the final 6:02 of the first half, leading the Boilermakers to a 41-29 halftime lead and sending Purdue’s crowd into a frenzy. This is the first and only time I’ve literally heard a crowd buzz when a player has barely stepped over halfcourt. Seriously. Not making that up. He had eight 3s in the first half, tying Cuonzo Martin’s school record for 3s in an entire game. He scored 29 of his 35 points before the break.
Turner followed with 23 of his 32 points in the second half. Purdue led 62-52 with four minutes left, but Turner scored all 10 points during a 10-0 run to tie the score. He scored 14 of Ohio State’s final 18 points, and did it just after returning from a back injury.
There are very few ‘Remember when?’ moments involving a loss for the home team, but Robbie provided one for Boilermakers fans, who got their money’s worth in six minutes. Anyone who was there that night might forget to tell you that Purdue lost.