CHICAGO — Matt Painter sat at Big Ten media day and was asked about the past season gone askew. Anyone looking for wishy-washy had come to the wrong table.
This is no time to be meek, and no time to be mute. The fascinating question about Purdue this season? How the Boilermakers — the young and the old — respond to being publicly called out by their coach.
Because they certainly have been.
“A lot of people care about Purdue basketball. I take that personal,” Painter said. “There were a lot of years of Purdue basketball before Coach (Gene) Keady, but to me, that’s all that I’ve known. We might have struggled at times with him. We might have struggled with me in certain areas. But we always played hard, and we always laid it on the line. So when we got away from that, to me, that’s our biggest challenge.”
Atonement. Eventually, every program needs it. Bad memories must be power-washed. But this is different for the Boilermakers and cuts closer to the bone. It was not just the 16-18 record last season that tormented Painter, who had averaged 25 wins the previous six years. It was a wrong turn in Purdue’s basketball passion.
He was plain enough last March, standing in a hallway in the United Center, questioning his team’s year-round commitment after the Boilermakers were whisk-broomed from the Big Ten tournament by Nebraska.
And he is plain enough now.
“There is an eagerness and excitement to get back on track, to fight for what is ours,” he said. “I told our guys we had an identity crisis. It says ‘play hard’ on our shorts, but we haven’t been playing hard. It’s false advertising.”
Lately, Painter has pulled fewer punches than Mike Tyson.