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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