WEST LAFAYETTE — The man for whom the Mackey Arena playing court is named – Gene Keady – was back on those sidelines Saturday afternoon, coaching in a Purdue Alumni game as if he were playing for a Big Ten Conference championship.
Keady, who celebrated his 78th birthday in May, won a school-record 512 games in his 25 seasons at Purdue, retiring after the 2004-05 season with six Big Ten regular-season championships and a legacy that centered on playing hard every minute of every game.
Now entering his fifth season at St. John’s as a special assistant coach/advisor to former Purdue graduate assistant coach Steve Lavin, Keady was the center of attention for almost 45 minutes after the Gold Alumni team rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat his Black Alumni team 106-97 in front of a crowd estimated at 4,000.
A long line of Purdue fans – young and old – waited patiently to speak with Keady on the court and to have items autographed.
It was as if Keady, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, during the offseason, never left the playing surface that bears his name.
“This is wonderful,” Keady said. “It was good to see all the former players, friends and having that good feeling of being comfortable in Mackey Arena. It brings everybody back together and creates a bond. It’s enjoyable to see all the players who played here.
“Their loyalty always is tremendous. To me, loyalty is special. It’s heartwarming … really enjoy that.”
Current Purdue coach Matt Painter, who played for Keady and is entering his 10th season guiding the Boilermakers, coached the winning Gold team, which got 20 points and eight rebounds from guard Kenneth Lowe (2000-04) and 15 points and 12 rebounds from 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year JaJuan Johnson, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the competitive spirit that Keady exhibited from the opening tip until the final horn.
In typical Keady fashion, he worked the officials and scolded his players when they did not take good shots.
“He is a competitor and is going to fight to win games, no matter what,” Painter said. “He instilled that in all of us. These games are always good, especially with the support you get from your fans.”
Former Keady standout forward Brian Cardinal, who played 12 NBA seasons and won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks, was thrilled to play for Keady once again.
Cardinal had nine points and seven rebounds.
“He has been a mentor to me as a player and as a person, and any time we can get him back at Purdue is fantastic,” Cardinal said.
“He was back on the sideline, and there is nothing better than getting yelled at by him from the sideline. Everybody got yelled at, which is awesome.”
Troy Lewis, who led Keady’s 1987 and 1988 Purdue teams to Big Ten titles, made two of the Black team’s 20 3-pointers.
“It’s always great to play for coach,” Lewis said. “Coach still is ornery on the sidelines like he always has been. It was fun. I told coach when we were losing the lead, ‘We have to play to win this game.’ We all still have the competitive juices. That is because he would never let anyone quit.”
Former Keady power forward and current Purdue assistant Brandon Brantley took good-natured ribbing from Keady after contributing nine key second-half points in the Gold’s comeback.
“He didn’t play that well when he played for me, so I don’t know what was going on,” Keady said.
“(Their young players) played the whole game, so they should have beaten us. I’m a bad sport.”