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MERRILLVILLE – It might not seem as daring to some, but in many regards high-wire walker Nik Wallenda has nothing on Matt Painter.
The Purdue men's basketball coach has to spend his entire career walking on edge when it comes to recruiting and sustaining the success that the Boilermaker faithful not only desire, but expect.
Painter met with members of the Boilermaker Nation during a stop on the Purdue Coaches Caravan on Monday in Merrillville. The tour continues Tuesday at the Fort Wayne Country Club. The social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. with the program at 6:30 p.m.
In 2012, the days of Purdue and Indiana simply selecting the best players in the Hoosier State after they've demonstrated ability on the court for a couple of years at the varsity level are over for several reasons.
First of all, if you are going to recruit a really talented player, you had better have started that process by the time that they are in driver's ed or else you won't get them.
“I don't think you can ever in business start a relationship too soon,” Painter said.
Secondly, you better have evaluated the player's talent level correctly, or it will come back to bite you.
Painter has made a habit of scouting talent early and often – even if it means at the eighth-grade level. He took his first look at former Boilermaker great E'Twaun Moore as a freshman in high school, and former South Side High School standout Rapheal Davis verbally committed to Purdue during his first year of high school.
“When you get early (commitments) and you are done recruiting the junior class and senior class, you kind of run out of things to do,” Painter said. “So when you are at (AAU) events, what are you going to do? You go down and recruit the sophomores, recruit the freshmen and recruit the eighth-graders.”
It is often difficult to project how college players who have physically matured will perform at the NBA level. There will be more mistakes made in the NBA Draft later this month than correct assessments. Imagine how difficult it can be to envision a 13-year-old playing in the Big Ten.
“Sometimes the right thing to do at the time two or three years later doesn't turn out to be that way,” Painter said.
Painter said offering a scholarship to an extremely young player is more the exception than the rule, but he and his staff still spend years “developing that relationship” with the player, his family and coaches. Sometimes that scholarship offer doesn't come at all, and sometimes it comes very late in the process.
“You are always on different grounds with different kids,” Painter said. “There's the kid that you offered. There's the kid that you're close to offering, and then there's the other guy that you just haven't seen enough and you are waiting to evaluate a little more.”
Maintaining a positive relationship without having offered a scholarship, despite seeing the player on several occasions, can be a tricky and sometimes uncomfortable situation for all parties involved.
“I just try to be direct with each guy (as to) where they are,” Painter said. “You are building a relationship, and the best way to handle it is to be honest with them. If your honesty turns them off, then so be it. If you do get a kid, and you've told him the truth all of the way through, they are really going to respect that and it is going to help your relationship.”