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From Worst to First: The Rebuilding of Purdue Basketball

How did the Purdue Boilermakers go from worst to first in just a few years?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

After the era of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel came to an end, people would have thought that the Purdue Boilermakers and coach Matt Painter had set themselves up for a run of success with the great teams that they had.

However, we know now that that was certainly not the case. Four years ago, just years removed from a share of the Big Ten Championship, Boilermaker basketball fans watched their team finish last in the Big Ten. It was a dreadful, dark time in West Lafayette. The 2013-14 season saw them finish 15-17 overall and an abysmal 5-13 in the conference.

So how has it been turned around in such a short time?

Quite simply, Matt Painter went back to what got them to the top in the first place. They began recruiting players who were interested in playing for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back of it. Guys like Raphael Davis, who committed to the program as a freshman in high school, who were fully determined to bring it back to the level of program it had been at with Moore, Johnson and Hummel.

However, the real key was bringing in the soon-to-be senior class. A handful of guys who were good high school players, above-average recruits but not guys playing for themselves. Dakota Matthias, Vincent Edwards, P.J. Thompson and Isaac Haas were the definite turning point for the program, and they deserve a huge portion of the credit for this resurgence.

All four stepped in right away and along with Davis and a matured A.J. Hammons, took the first step towards rebuilding the Purdue brand. They went from finishing last place in the conference to tying for the 3rd spot and finishing 21-13 overall, 12-6 in the conference. Following a heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, this team came back with much higher aspirations.

In the spring of 2015, there was plenty of drama surrounding the landscape of Indiana high school recruiting. Homestead High School big man and Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan held out his commitment until the spring and eventually chose Michigan State.

However, how that story ends is what finally put Purdue back over the top. Understanding that Purdue had the interior size to allow him to play the four spot he will likely play in the NBA, Swanigan pulled back on his verbal commitment to the Spartans and chose to go play for Coach Painter in West Lafayette.

Even with some of the very good in-state recruits the Boilermakers had brought in, Swanigan was the first Indiana Mr. Basketball to choose West Lafayette since the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson, in 1991. It was a huge momentum boost for the program both on the court and on the recruiting trail. Fellow Indiana high school star Ryan Cline had committed to Purdue much earlier and would provide the Boilers an absolute sniper from three point range.

Caleb Swanigan has also potentially provided a huge statement on a national level, being the first McDonald’s All-American to commit to calling West Lafayette home.

Swanigan had a great freshman year, but unsatisfied with what he was told by NBA people told him, he returned the set the Big Ten on fire with his sophomore campaign.

With their one true star at the center of the operation and a wonderful supply of great role players and a supporting cast, Purdue was back atop the Big Ten only four years after it looked like the whole operation was on a downward spiral. By going back to what Purdue had been built on from the Gene Keady days, Matt Painter has restored the brand and has Purdue back in the mix.

While this team had some disappointing losses this season and it certainly didn’t end how they had hoped, their ability of this program to bounce back has been incredible. The resilience, toughness and confidence they showed throughout the past three years in any situation has been remarkable.

Now, with the roster potentially in flux with guys like Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas and Swanigan all testing the NBA waters, Painter has another strong recruiting class coming in to provide depth and replacements in the rotation, should they be needed depending on the decisions of the guys previously mentioned.

Purdue definitely has their momentum back as a program, and it will be very exciting for Boilermaker fans and the university to see how far some of that momentum can carry them going forward.