For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio
Matt Painter doesn't speak in riddles, leaving confusion in his wake. Gray is for other coaches; symbolism is for other basketball programs. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, Purdue's veteran coach is a black-and, well, gold guy who talks truth as he sees it.
“I'm direct. If you don't get it, there's no way around the message. You might not like how it gets delivered at times, but we communicate up front.”
Consecutive sub-.500 records, an unwanted first in his 10-year head-coaching career, has Painter communicating this message above all others:
It's got to be better. No matter that seven scholarship players will be freshmen or sophomores and there will be no seniors.
It's got to be better.
“I think in the past when we were successful and young, we had old souls who understood the game,” he says. “We preached the same things when we were great and when we struggled. It was each guy checking his ego at the door. We had everybody on the same page. We were off the charts in those areas before.
“We need guys who understand the game, and our new guys have to help in that area.”
Purdue returns center A.J. Hammons (who passed on the NBA draft); guards Bryson Scott, Rapheal Davis and Kendall Stephens; and forward Basil Smotherman. It brings in freshmen Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and Jacquil Taylor.
Will it be enough to return Purdue to NCAA tourney regularity, starting next season?
That's the goal. Even a three-time Big Ten coach of the year isn't invulnerable in this what-have-you-done-lately profession, especially when coming off a last-place conference finish.
“We did a lot of good things in preparation for the season,” Painter says. “It's no secret we didn't have great chemistry. Not everybody was pulling the rope in the same direction. As we go on, we can't have that.”
Near the end of this 15-17 season, Painter accepted responsibility. Recently, he did again -- with this thought:
“We weren't good enough. Talking about why at this point doesn't get you anywhere. I want to move on, get better, help guys. We've had good workouts in the spring.
“The horse is dead. Why don't we get off of it?”
Of course, horse riding will linger until a turnaround, and Painter understands that. He has analyzed every facet that turned a program that had reached six straight NCAA tourneys, won a Big Ten tourney title and played in consecutive Sweet 16s into a doormat.
“You always second-guess yourself when things don't work. We try to set the table and make guys understand what it takes to be successful.
“I'm a big believer that you can outwork people. You're only as strong as your weakest link. You move forward, learn from it. You work harder than other people. You don't cave when things go wrong. You don't play the blame game. You accept responsibility.
“As a coach, you always try to do things to help your team. We have to be more fundamentally sound, have better chemistry, get along. Each guy has to do what he's supposed to do, work hard, and have a good attitude. You can control your attitude and effort. You try to dominate those areas.”
Talk to the players and they say similar things, which is fine, Painter says, to a point.
“I've seen (players) get in interviews and say the right things and do the right things. I've seen them get interviewed and say the right things and do whatever the hell they want.
“We have to do a good job of getting a guy who does those things he says. Once they do and we're all on the same page, we'll have success.”
Painter has thrived as a defensive coach, with the Boilers using a physical man-to-man approach (Painter doesn't do zones) that rips the structure from opposing offenses. But that has slipped the last two seasons, and it's way more than the consequence of rules changes that limit perimeter contact and charge-block fouls.
Purdue was last in the Big Ten in scoring defense this past season, allowing 71.7 points.
What was the problem?
“More than anything,” Painter says, “it's just carrying out your assignment. People will say, did you ever think about doing something different (as in playing zone)? If you're a coach, and you have a game plan and it doesn't work, that's when you say, I've got to try something different. But when you put things together and guys are not following through with what we're asking them to do in terms of details and doing the little things, now as a coach you're lost a little bit because they're not following instruction.”
The Boilers were consistent in their follow-instruction inconsistency.
“We had more issues, whether it was inexperience or stubbornness, of not doing what we were supposed to do,” Painter says. “When we did those things and held ourselves accountable, we did some good things.
“We'll see (about next season). I really believe, with the guys who are coming in and the guys returning, we can be better in that area.”
Still, it leaves a question about why Purdue wasn't better this season.
“It was just following basic instruction, just sticking to our rules,” Painter says. “When you don't do it, some of it lies with inexperience. It's hard for a young guy do that. But you do see young guys do it. We've had young guys do it.
“Now some can't, and sometimes it's physical, sometimes it's mental. Sometimes it's both.
“When you get older and (you're still not following instructions), you have to ask, are you coachable? Do you want to win? Are you playing for the team or for yourself?
“You can't give a blanket answer with this team. It lies with each individual. They say the right things. They say what they know they're supposed to do.
“When you're in a film session with a guy who hasn't done it before and you say, 'You have to stay tight with this guy on this ball screen. Don't keep going under it.' That's one thing. But when you're in a session with a guy who has done it many times and sometimes does it, sometimes doesn't, that's a frustrating part of coaching.
“Hopefully we learned our lesson and will get better from it. In the long run it makes you tougher and stronger.”