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What if... Matt Painter had gone to Indiana?

The Purdue head coach grew up a fan of Bob Knight’s Indiana program.

Image via Getty

Matt Painter was born in Fort Wayne, played point guard at Delta High School in Muncie and absolutely loved the Indiana Hoosiers.

He was a big fan too, having attended the 1987 title game and everything. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, Painter would have loved more than a scholarship offer to play college ball down in Bloomington.

An offer that never came.

Instead, Indiana took other freshmen guards: Greg Graham (Indianapolis), Chris Reynolds (Peoria, Illinois), Pat Graham (Floyds Knobs) and Todd Leary (Indianapolis). Oh and another guy named uuhhhh Calbert Cheaney. Him too.

Painter finished his career at Purdue with 276 career assists. Greg Graham left Bloomington with 304 and Reynolds had 356.

That wasn’t the end for Painter though. He’d go into coaching following his playing career and I’m sure you know how that story ended up going.

But what if something had changed? What if Indiana needed another guard in the class of ‘89 for whatever reason and Painter’s dreams had come true?

Let’s think about it.

Now, Matt Painter attending Indiana and playing here for four years doesn’t necessarily mean he’d also end up coaching here.

Painter ended up at Purdue thanks to a clean transition from the legendary Gene Keady, with the former working as the coach-in-waiting for a year before taking over a pretty healthy program for himself.

Yeah, that was extremely not the case at Indiana, which fired its head coach for a litany of reprehensible acts on and off the court. Would-be successors have come and gone rather than being chosen and learning for a period of time as Painter did.

Let’s say, for the sake of this scenario, that Painter ended up back in Bloomington as the coach one way or another. How would he fare?

Well, the funny thing about Painter’s 2022-23 Purdue team that won a Big Ten title? It looks an awful lot like one of those 1980s/90s Indiana teams. You’ve got:

  • The in-state talent: Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Mason Gillis, Caleb Furst etc etc
  • A few players from the surrounding area/elsewhere: Ethan Morton, David Jenkins Jr, Camden Heide
  • International big men: Zach Edey, Will Berg

Painter has built Purdue in the image that Indiana message board posters have been clamoring for the Hoosiers to resemble for the past two decades. His down stretch at the program came in no small part because he began going after high-caliber talent that just wasn’t very attracted to Purdue.

... Would that be the case at Indiana?

Regardless of win totals, coaching tenures and titles, it’s pretty obvious that Indiana has been able to recruit at a higher level than Purdue throughout each programs’ history. Difference being that Painter is now doing more with less.

If he chased after that five-star talent in Bloomington rather than West Lafayette, with Indiana’s national brand and resources at his back, he probably doesn’t whiff the way he did at Purdue.

And if Painter can strike the right combination of that NBA talent, in-state players and international prospects? That... could mean another title. Or more.

Or the slump could still happen and he’d be fired even if he won, like, two Big Ten titles in four years. Which would be wild, right? Firing a coach after that kind of success? Ha, can you imagine.

Beyond Indiana, what of Purdue? Do they find another eventual successor for Keady? Does that guy work out the way Painter does? Does Purdue continue to find success without that kind of consistency?

It’s all a bit of an interesting hypothetical.

But Indiana does have a former player leading the program now, and we’ll just have to wait to see how that turns out as far as high-caliber talent goes.