CHICAGO -- It’s listed in bold lettering atop the Mackey Arena tunnel. The Boilermakers see it before every game. It’s time to play hard, the sign states. But that’s to be a mantra, not a challenge.
The message is one Matt Painter embraces. It embodies the culture of his Purdue program. Painter took it to heart as a player, an assistant coach, and eventually as head coach. He wishes the same work ethic upon his team. Following Purdue’s 57-55 Big Ten Tournament loss to Nebraska, Painter offered an example of what his program should stand for.
“Dru Anthrop, Travis Carroll—they overachieved,” Painter said to the media following his team’s first-round loss. “They worked their asses off to be here and they care. The other guys are good guys, but you got to show up with a passion and a commitment to what we're doing if you want me to trust you. I think that's what it comes down to.”
Painter illustrated Purdue’s greater issue from the disappointing 15-17 season: the Boilermakers didn’t play hard—or not near the level he desires.
There’s no disputing that the Boilermakers have talent on their roster. But it was only shown in flashes. At times, freshman center A.J. Hammons looked like the future NBA Lottery pick he has been projected to become. In Thursday’s loss, he was benched in the game’s most important minutes; with reserve forward Sandi Marcius filling his role. The same can be said for promising sophomore Anthony Johnson, who hit just 35.5 percent of his shots.
In speaking to the media on Thursday, Painter did not call out any player by name, but his words were pointed. He demands more from his program, and the change begins immediately.
“We go back and we assess where we are, evaluate each guy, evaluate our team, do our best to evaluate what's coming in,” Painter said. “Because we need to recruit and try to get some things fixed. We just have to be more into it in terms of having 12-month guys.”
Later in the press conference, Painter offered an example of the commitment he hopes the Boilermakers strive for.
“Rapheal Davis shows up every single day,” Painter started. “He comes early, he stays late, he works on his game, he watches extra film. I'm going to migrate to those guys. I'm not going to migrate to guys that come in, when practice is at 3 o'clock, right at 3 and it ends at 5:30, they leave right at 5:30. I'm always going to be that way.”
That’s the Matt Painter that Boilermaker fans know. The eighth-year head coach wants to work, and he demands his player do, too. Painter is committed to his alma mater. Just on Monday, he detailed the desire to be a Purdue lifer, just as his coaching mentor, Gene Keady.
Painter is loyal to his team, but that must be returned. This year, it wasn’t.
“I don't trust guys that I don't see,” Painter said. “If you live in that gym, I start to trust you. I think that's an important thing in college basketball. Period.”
The season is likely over for Purdue. An invitation to the CBI could come, but it should be declined. There’s a greater problem within the program and it won’t be fixed with postseason play. The offseason begin immediately and the culture must be changed.
Painter has set the example. Now, his team must follow.
“If you work on your game and you care and you love it, I'm your guy,” said Painter. “If you go through the motions or whatever, I'm not your guy.”