Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter grew up an Indiana basketball fan. More than three decades after then-IU coach Bob Knight declined to offer Painter a scholarship out of high school in Muncie, the second-winningest coach in Boilermakers history donned a jacket fit for a Hoosier.
Painter, 51, who was born in Fort Wayne before growing up in Muncie, was a recipient of the Mad Anthonys Red Coat on Saturday at the Clyde Theatre, joining a group of past honorees that includes Knight and Painter's mentor, longtime Purdue coach Gene Keady.
Keady recruited Painter to play for him at Purdue and then helped his protégé get the head coaching job in West Lafayette when Keady retired in 2005.
“I don't know if I chose Purdue as much as I chose Gene Keady,” Painter told the Clyde crowd of his college recruitment. “Keady was really matter-of-fact about everything, and I said, 'Dad, I don't know about this guy.' He said, 'That's the only guy that came through here that told you the 100% truth. And that was coming from someone who had two degrees from Indiana.”
Painter, who is set to lead the Boilermakers for the 18th season in the fall, was introduced via recorded video by Purdue President Mitch Daniels, the state's governor from 2005 to 2013 and a Red Coat recipient in 2008.
“He brings out of his players the finest of character,” Daniels said. “I always know that I'll be able to be proud of Matt and each of his players, the way they conduct themselves off the court as well as on.”
Painter was joined at the Red Coat Gala by a pair of his former players, South Side product Rapheal Davis and Lewis Jackson, as well as a current Boilermaker from the Summit City: former Blackhawk Christian standout Caleb Furst, who will be a sophomore in the fall.
“It's been great,” Furst, sporting a boot on the left foot that was surgically repaired in April, said of playing for Painter. “Obviously he's a great coach, but he's also a great man, as well. He's just got a lot of wisdom and is really easy to talk to. ... He's done a lot of great things and to be here to witness him reap the benefits of that is really cool.”
In his 17 years at the helm, Painter has taken the Boilermakers to 13 NCAA Tournaments, recorded six Sweet 16 appearances, made an Elite Eight run in 2019 and captured three Big Ten regular-season championships.
His Boilermakers reached No. 1 in the AP Poll last season for the first time in program history but came up short of the team's first Final Four since 1980 when they bowed out against No. 15 seed St. Peter's in the Sweet 16.
Ending that four-decade Final Four drought remains Painter's overriding goal, he told the crowd Saturday.
“The one thing we haven't gotten to is a Final Four and that's where we'd like to get,” Painter said. “But we're not going to lose our soul in the process. Doing things the right way – we've done an unbelievable job from our people to our education at Purdue, helping these (players) get opportunities.”
Painter said next year's roster is not yet complete; the Boilers are still hoping to add a point guard to replace departed guards Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson, who transferred out of the program this offseason.
The Boilermakers will be bringing in another Fort Wayne native, former Homestead guard Fletcher Loyer, as a true freshman in the fall.
“It's been one of those things where you work really hard to recruit guys, but there's been some really good players from Fort Wayne and we've been very fortunate to get them,” Painter said.