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OldGoldFreePress COLUMNISTS | BACK TO Guest_Columnist'S COLUMNS

PURDUE MENS BASKETBALL:
Purdue's Old Dogs Showing Better Tricks




Date: 2/15/2000
Author: Mike Ermitage
Mike Ermitage

    Go ahead and pick up your nearest newspaper or click on your favorite college sports web site and you'll see that youth rules the day.

    If it isn't Virginia Tech's Michael Vick somehow darting and dashing his way to a big gain, it is Cincinnati's DeMarr Johnson popping jumpers, slashing to the lane and plain out-playing his elder brethren en route to a 21-point first half effort. It seems that in college sports, and across the nation in many other disciplines, the standard for excellence is being measured against a steadily younger crowd. As many as four high-profile college basketball programs handed their teams to freshmen point guards this season - Duke to Jason Williams, Illinois to Frank Williams, Cincinnati to Kenny Satterfield and Louisville to Reece Gaines - each with varied success. Surely I'm forgetting some. The point is that experience is becoming a diminishing and overlooked asset.

    The 1999-2000 version of the Purdue men's basketball team is long on experience, featuring four senior starters, a fifth-year junior starter and a senior bench player. Despite this, the pundits and the experts predicted mediocre things for this aged group. It seems many of them have bought into the flash and fury of the youth movement and have ignored the subtle savvy of seniors.

    Leave it to Gene Keady to prove them wrong, as he has done so many times in the past. This grizzled group finds itself in the middle of a Big Ten race they had no chance of winning, and more importantly, they're acting like they've been there before.

    Three times this conference season, against Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State, Purdue found itself down late in the second half. And each time they responded with patience and brilliance, outlasting each of those teams for huge conference victories.

    Each opponent whined about several factors, obviously frustrated that their superior talent didn't overcome the Boilermakers. But we've all been there before down at the local gym. You know you're quicker, a better leaper, and a bit faster than the group of balding guys you're playing but you never can seem to beat them. They know all the proverbial tricks of the trade, the subtle hold of the jersey, the unexpected block out and the push in the post. And they always seem to know where each other is. Always one step ahead of you. It is frustrating, and you can see it across the Big Ten as Purdue knocks off opponent after opponent.

    It was experience that contributed to those wins, but it wasn't responsible for those wins. For just as youth will bring inconsistency, experience can bring complacency. Purdue has avoided getting bored in its pursuit, probably because these seniors have spent so much time pursuing and so little time celebrating. You see, these seniors have contributed nothing to the trophy shelves of Mackey Arena. They have not won a Big Ten championship, a Big Ten tourney championship, or any preseason championships (yes, unsuccessful in the cold mountains of Alaska, unsuccessful in the tropics of Hawaii, and the balmy winter of New York turned them away as NIT 3rd-placers).

    This failure has surely left this team hungry, as hungry for recognition as any 17-year old pup storming into the league. It is this combination of venerable knowledge and youthful hunger that is challenging for the conference crown. A championship so long in the waiting but so well deserved.


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