WEST LAFAYETTE — Beginning with the 2006-07 season on through 2011-12, Matt Painter was among the college basketball coaching fraternity’s rising young stars, and his Purdue Boilermakers were a force with which to be reckoned.
During that six-season window, Purdue and Painter won 151 of 209 games, finished in the Big Ten’s top four on five occasions, won the 2009 Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, tied for the league’s regular-season championship in 2010 and participated in six consecutive NCAA tournaments, advancing to the Sweet 16 twice.
Led by Carl Landry, David Teague, Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, Painter appeared to have captured lightning in a bottle in Mackey Arena.
But since Hummel, who now plays for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson and Smith completed their athletic eligibility in 2012, the wheels suddenly have fallen off Painter’s Boilermaker express.
In the past two seasons, Purdue has a combined 31-35 record, including 13-23 in the Big Ten. The recently completed season was a nightmare.
The Boilermakers were 13-5 after a January victory at Illinois, then went 2-12 the rest of the way, finishing 15-17, 5-13 in the Big Ten and in last place.
From first to worst in the Big Ten in four short seasons.
Painter, who was courted by Missouri in the spring of 2011, decided to stay at his alma mater but has been plagued recently by recruiting misses, five transfers in the past two seasons including two-year starting point guard Ronnie Johnson, poor free-throw shooting, too many turnovers and poor defense.
On Wednesday, Painter reiterated what he said after a March 9 loss to Northwestern in Mackey Arena.
“I accept responsibility,” said Painter, a former Purdue point guard. “You always second-guess yourself when things don’t work. We try our best to set the table and make guys understand what it is going to take to be successful. I am a big believer that you can outwork people, but you only are as strong as your weakest link.
“We were not good enough this year. You move forward, and you learn from it. You work harder than other people. You don’t play the blame game. You accept responsibility. We just have to be more fundamentally sound and have better chemistry. We have to eliminate things from an independent standpoint. You can control your attitude and your effort.”
Purdue was guilty of 393 turnovers, 22 more than its opponents and shot only 67.1 percent from the line (492 of 733) while foes shot 71 percent (548 of 772).
But it was defense – giving up 71.7 points a game – and allowing at least 74 points in each of the final six regular-season games (all defeats) that troubled Painter most this season.
He said it could have been inexperience or stubbornness or not following the game plan, but the Boilermakers were much too inconsistent defensively to give themselves a chance to finish with a winning record.
If nothing else, he promises Purdue will be improved defensively in 2014-15.
“It’s really about carrying out an assignment,” Painter said. “When you get down, people say, ‘Do you ever think about doing something different.’ When you are a coach and you put a game plan together and your team does that game plan and it doesn’t work, that is when you step back and try to do something different.
“But when you put things together, and you are not following through with what we are asking you to do in terms of details, now as a coach, you are lost a little bit, because they are not following instruction.”
It also has hurt Purdue that in the past two years, guards Ronnie Johnson and Anthony Johnson, center Sandi Marcius and forwards Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson have asked for their scholarship releases in order to transfer to another school.
As recently as Wednesday, 350 Division I men’s basketball players have announced they plan to transfer to another school for 2014-15. Painter said that the problem has become an epidemic brought about by what he calls a microwave society.
“I don’t know if we are going to be able to change that,” Painter said. “It’s not something where you are going to change a rule. More people now change high schools. More people now change AAU teams. If something goes wrong, or they don’t like something, they are going to change colleges.
“They have created a habit when something goes wrong at an early age, they go to another team. Working through issues with a team or school isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. We have created a habit when things go wrong to move in another direction.”
Painter hopes Purdue’s direction is up in 2014-15. He got good news when 7-foot junior to be center A.J. Hammons announced Wednesday that he will return to Purdue in 2014-15 and not enter the NBA draft.
Hammons averaged 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and blocked 96 shots as a sophomore.
“We owe our fans some better basketball,” Hammons said Wednesday when announcing his decision to return.
Other returnees include Fort Wayne natives Rapheal Davis and Bryson Scott, along with sophomores-to-be Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman.
Painter also will welcome a five-player recruiting class led by Ohio natives Vince Edwards from Middletown and Dakota Mathias from Elida.
“I like what we have coming back and what we have coming in,” Painter said. “Now, it is time to get to work.”