Following are some additional thoughts from my conversations with Coach Cuonzo Martin at the Adidas ABCD camp in New Jersey. I have included some of my own thought interspersed with those of Coach Martin. I will again mention that I am trying to filter what is appropriate to share and add my own thoughts as well. Much of what Cuonzo and I discussed was in a very informal manner. It would not be great idea to share anything that was not intended for public consumption.
Coach Martin and I discussed a number of topics in addition to what I have already shared about next yearís team. One of the obvious discussion topics was about the coaching situation.
One of the first things we discussed regarding coaching was the "Lavin situation". Cuonzo explained why he thought it did not happen. His views regarding why AD Morgan Burke was not ready to make a guarantee to Coach Lavin as the successor were consistent with what others have speculated. I donít want to be more specific than that.
"Lav", as Cuonzo calls him, has not been written off as an option as the next coach in Cuonzoís opinion. My guess is that is wonít happen as Burke will almost have to admit he was wrong to go that route. We will see.
I mentioned to Cuonzo that his job recruiting would have been a lot easier with Lavin in the fold. You could see his eyes light up. Me, Lav, Todd and Tracy would be awesome. I canít remember his exact words but that was the gist (after the fact I was trying to recall if he mentioned Todd or Tracy first and I could not recall). I expect that combination would have worked very well! We will likely never know.
I asked if Cuonzo if he thought Burke would stay within the Purdue family for the next coach. After Lavin, Cuonzo thought he was the only possibility "within the family". My guess is Cuonzo does not have Matt Painter as an option on his radar screen. At the very least he does not expect Painter to surpass him as a candidate. Painter is certainly a longer shot, but not entirely beyond the realm of possibility in my view if he kicks butt at SIU. To be clear, we did not discuss Painter as an option, only if Cuonzo thought Burke would stay within the Purdue family.
We talked about what other direction Purdue might go outside the program. I mentioned Thad Matta as a representative candidate and Cuonzo agreed. I am sure none of us are expecting a high profile, highly paid coach.
I would not guess that Burke is going to extend Keadyís contract at this point. As many have pointed out, if he was going to extend the contract, he would have done it already. There is a chance Burke might extend the contract if we have a great year and he is convinced that Cuonzo is the man for the long term. An extension would give time for Cuonzo to be ready for the transition. I would be happy to see us win big the next few years and Cuonzo be announced as the successor on the staff. That would probably require Keady to stay on or two more years. How our recruiting goes in that time frame may also make a difference.
Cuonzo knows the buzz on the message boards and clearly feels some frustration. He has been known to check out the Purdue boards, as well as those of other teams like Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, etc. Coach Price clearly checked out the boards as well. I think it is safe to say that many of the coaches around the Big Ten check out the boards to get the buzz about various programs. For those who think the negativity is just you letting off steam and it does not impact recruiting, you may be mistaken (probably more true of the GBI boards). You can bet the other coaches mention how the fans are down on Purdue and want to get rid of Keady. They may not say it in so many words, but you can bet it comes out. Note that this is my editorial comment, not directly from Coach Martin. On the other hand, ask yourself why a coach would check out he message boards of other schools? I think you could easily come to the same conclusion.
What is the buzz other coaches hear if they check out the Purdue boards? Some alumni and fans do not realize their own best interests are at stake to help create a positive buzz (unless your only agenda is to run our current coach out of town). I do understand that it is not in an individualís control to "manage" the buzz, nor is an optimistic attitude some sort of requirement to be a "true" fan. I donít have a pat solution, but I think a dose of optimism for us all would be helpful to the program. It may be against some peopleís nature, so donít go changiní to try and please me (VBG). As Purdue fans we have been left at the altar so many times (in football as well as basketball) that we almost donít want to believe. As optimistic as we all are about the upcoming football season, who among you does not have a doubt? I think a dose of cautious optimism is appropriate for our basketball team as well. We will have an excellent team this year and there is not a team that we canít beat on our schedule. With continued improvement on defense and a few breaks, we should challenge for the Big Ten title and make a run in the tourney.
In my opinion, we should be excited about our basketball team at this point, whether you are happy with the transition or not. Our basketball team is on an upswing, but our recruiting may or may not show it. Next year that upswing will be due in large part to seniors Kenny Lowe and Chris Booker. At the same time David Teague and Melvin Buckley will just get better and Matt Kiefer may end up becoming the next Brad Miller.
Throw in an improved Matt Carroll, Brandon McKnight , Ije and Xavier Price and we have the makings of a very good team for the next few years. I might go so far as to suggest that Adam Liddell will contribute to the program in some fashion as well.
We may be a better team than we are a program at this point due to the transition, but trust me that Purdue Basketball is still a blue chip stock. We will always be a good basketball program one way or another.
RECRUITING DURING THE TRANSITION Ė MY OPINION
Regarding recruiting during the transition, the key thing we lack at this point is the ability to offer continuity to recruits. One idea is to announce Cuonzo will be around the program in some fashion (as an assistant at the minimum but in the top job if our teams performance proves he is the man for the job). I think Keady would go for that and Burke might seriously consider it. On the other hand, I donít think Burke wants to tie his hands (Lavin being a pretty good example). In my opinion, it is hard to argue it would not be a positive to have Cuonzo around the through the transition. The argument that he might not work hard if he was "guaranteed" a job does not make sense in Cuonzoís case. He wants to be a head coach some day and the guarantee would only be for an assistant position (possibly not even lead assistant).
One key to the transition is to bring in good players that can keep it going. That will be more likely if recruits know someone involved in their recruitment will still be around. This would be kind of like how Illinois required any new coach keep coach Wayne Mclain on the staff (FYI - Wayne is Sergio Mclainís Dad and former prep coach of Sergio, Frank Williams and Marcus Griffin). Any move like this would not have to be publicly announced, but would be a real help in recruiting in my opinion.
STYLE OF BASKETBALL
Cuonzo and I also had a discussion about style of play. Cuonzo seems to be more in the camp of a free flowing style of basketball versus purely running plays. Cuonzo feels at times that the players need to go with the flow of the game versus thinking too much. We agreed that taking good shots is the key with any offense. It is my opinion that we would see a change in the offense if Cuonzo was in charge.
I mentioned the Butler win over Louisville in the tourney as an example of a team running plays and executing beating a free flowing team. Cuonzo said that Butler would have lost by 20 at Louisville. A team like Butler has to sneak up on a better team and when they do, their confidence can be contagious. You canít build a top basketball team counting on sneaking up on other teams.
Cuonzo mentioned that our players felt they had to play their best game versus Texas, while Texas felt they had to show up and play their typical game. This is when we got in the discussion of confidence and swagger. Cuonzo really wants our player to get to the point where they feel they are better and are going to win. This does not mean lack of hard play, only the confidence that you can pull the game out regardless of the situation.
COMMITMENT TO THE BASKETBALL PROGRAM
Cuonzo and I also discussed the open Administrative Assistant position and the potential for a new stadium (or at least stadium improvements).
Cuonzo would like to see a new arena like a Conseco Fieldhouse, that has that old time basketball feel but modern amenities. He acknowledged that was unlikely in the near term given our commitments on the football side.
As you can imagine, Cuonzo would also like to see the Administrative Assistant position filled. That is as far as he went and the rest is my opinion. My sense is that Jay Price took up a lot of this slack and will be missed in that area. I personally find it hard to believe that an aggressive young person in this role who has a passion for basketball and a desire to break into the coaching ranks would not add much more than 30K in value. The alumni need to let Morgan Burke know that we believe that position should be filled and we would provide the support required. I will belly up with some money if others will as well. It is only matter of time, as the next basketball coach will expect to have a full staff and will get it.
Once again, I will be happy to answer any questions. Thanks again to Bob for setting me up with this gig. Who among us would not want to spend an hour with a Purdue Basketball coach like Coach Martin talking about all things Purdue basketball?