March 10, 2007
When Purdue head coach Matt Painter roams the sideline, there is a unique sense of pride among the Black and Gold faithful that so few experience. In Painter, they see one of their own and a tribute to Purdue's longstanding basketball tradition.
A guard for the Boilermakers from 1989-93, Painter embraced legendary then-Purdue coach Gene Keady's tenacious style. The future successor became a captain during his senior year after helping the Boilers to a runner-up finish in the Big Ten as a sophomore. It was at Purdue, the future coach in Painter was born.
He has an invaluable teacher in Keady, one of the nation's most respected coaches.
The 25-year Purdue sideline general became the program's all-time winningest coach on Dec. 6, 1997, by defeating Louisville and Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, 87-69. With a trademark coaching style founded on dogged defensive pressure, Keady won six Big Ten championships, including three straight outright titles from 1994 to 1996. That feat has been accomplished by only one other team -- Ohio State from 1960 to 1962. He was also honored as the nation's top coach as many times - the second-most by any coach.
What he learned under Keady's tutelage, Painter immediately put to use after his graduation from Purdue. He left West Lafayette for Washington, Mo., and Barton, Kan., before settling in at as a graduate assistant at Eastern Illinois. From there, he traveled nearly three hours down US-57 to Carbondale, Ill., home of the Southern Illinois Salukis. It was there Painter's coaching journey would finally land him a head coaching opportunity after a couple seasons under now-Illinois coach Bruce Webber, another former student of the great Keady.
Weber spent 18 years under the legendary Boilermaker mentor as an assistant from the 1980-81 season until taking over the head coaching position at Southern Illinois in 1998. One of his students at Purdue, of course, was Painter.
In his first season in Champaign, Ill., Webber guided the Illini to a Big Ten championship before a Sweet 16 finish in the NCAA Tournament. The squad followed that performance with another Big Ten title and advanced to the game's grandest stage - the NCAA Championship game at the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Painter was taking over where Webber left off at Southern Illinois in his first head coaching role.
Keady retired following the 2005 season after going 512-270 in his distinguished Purdue career, but the world knew his legacy would be carried on by Painter in an announcement on April 9, 2004. In 2005, Painter became one of 39 coaches in NCAA Division I men's basketball who owns the head coaching title at his alma mater. Only Penn State's Ed DeChellis has the same privilege among the Big Ten coaches.
There are only nine in women's basketball, and one of them is Purdue's Sharon Versyp, who on Monday just won her a Big Ten Tournament title in her first season at the helm of the Lady Boilers.
Both Painter and Webber took the United Center court tonight, and despite their losses, there is no question the legacy of Gene Keady will endure in the Big Ten.