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WEST LAFAYETTE – They lined up nearly everybody who was ever anybody in Purdue basketball history, give or take a Rick Mount and a Big Dog, and let them hold court again.
Some were in shape. Some weren't. Some had aged well, even as it's hard to believe Troy Lewis is 46. Some put on a couple pounds.
Yet for an afternoon, they were Boilers up again, spurred on by a crowd of more than 6,000 cheering in sweltering, where's-the-air-conditioning Mackey Arena. For those who bleed black-and-gold, it was nothing but a pure treat.
Lewis drained long-range jumpers. Todd Mitchell muscled his way inside. Brian Cardinal played like Brian Cardinal.
And Gene Keady, the trademark comb-over long gone, soaked in a standing ovation at Purdue's first alumni game.
“It was great to play in Mackey again,” Cardinal said. “It's fun to come back and see the fans, see the kids, and have a chance to play under Coach Keady one more time. …We had a great time playing and a great time socializing and horsing around over there on the bench.”
The teams were divided into Keady's Team Black and current coach Matt Painter's Team Gold.
Keady's team won 73-70 when Lewis Jackson – who played after Keady retired – hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. But Keady's team was stacked pretty good from the start, with Lewis, Mitchell, Cardinal, Chris Kramer and Justin Jennings.
Painter's squad had fewer “legends,” but held its own with some fine play from players such as Carson Cunningham, Brandon Brantley and David Teague.
“It was good to play with those guys who have been very successful and hung a lot of banners up before I played,” Kramer said. “A lot of guys could still play. Brandon can still shoot it. Troy can play. Todd can play. It was a fun game and a heck of a finish.”
Keady called timeout with less than seven seconds left to set up the final shot. He had Lewis, part of his legendary trio with Mitchell and Everette Stephens (who attended, but didn't play) and Cardinal, two prolific scorers.
But Jackson, the youngster of his team, got the call.
“It was a little flat ball screen for 'Lew-Jack,' ” Cardinal said. “If he was open, he would shoot it. If not, he'd take it to the rim and lay it in. He was feeling it, feeling hot.”
Cardinal, a free agent hoping to play one final season in the NBA, received one of the biggest cheers during introductions. But the crowd showed appreciation to everyone. (Fort Wayne had two alums at the event: B.J. Carretta, who played for Team Black, and Craig Riley, who did not play. Riley, incidentally, was Painter's roommate one season.)
“Coach Painter has really kept the former players connected with the program,” Carretta said. “I'm in Chicago and I always go to the Northwestern game. They take care of you. It's a family.”
If I were to measure the applause of the fans, their favorites were, in no particular order, Cardinal, Lewis, Mitchell, Kramer and Jackson. Also in the house, and cheered loudly in the postgame introductions, were 2012 grad Robbie Hummel and NBA players JaJuan Johnson and Carl Landry.
“You see the ovations (the fans) give certain people,” Painter said. “They were guys that were better players, but also guys that played hard and laid it on the line. It was great to see the support from the fans. I think our guys really appreciated it.”
Mitchell said his favorite moment was the standing ovation given to Keady.
There's something to be said for the continuity of Purdue's program, from Keady to Painter, who played for Keady.
Given all the negative stories in college sports, it was refreshing to see the family-type interaction between the former Purdue players and the fans. Autographs and conversations were part of the gig.
Cardinal has talked about working at Purdue, perhaps as a coach, after he finishes his NBA career. He hopes that's a year away, but he looked at home Saturday.
“The transformation of this whole place has been awesome,” Cardinal said of the revamped Mackey Arena and adjoining facilities. “This is an exciting time for Purdue, the university and the men's basketball program. I'm excited to be a fan and we'll see where it goes.”
It was a parade of memories at Purdue on Saturday. The good guys won, even the half of them that lost.