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Say It Ain’t So, Gordon

Hayward and the Bulldogs

I’ve waited three weeks since the end of the NCAA basketball tournament to write this. It’s good sometimes to wait before you say something that’s on your mind; maybe you’ll change that little mind of yours, or obtain new information that alters your opinion. Maybe you’ll find a less hurtful way of telling your boyfriend he’s a stupid, selfish bitch; or maybe not. 🙂

Butler basketball star Gordon Hayward wants to jump to the NBA.

So do JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore of Purdue. So do countless throngs of wannabes. I think they’re making a terrible mistake.

These three are all fine college basketball players. With Johnson and Moore, Purdue made it to the Sweet Sixteen last month, without their star running mate Robbie Hummell.

Hayward’s Bulldogs lost the National Championship game by two points to Duke.

What could be more predictable than that these very good college players would want to sign for big dollars with professional teams? If somebody’s offering you money, you take it. There’s big money involved.

But I think it would be a terrible mistake for all three of them. Why? They’re not good enough. They’re not mature enough. They’re not ready.

Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore. That’s a very respectable number for a college boy, but it’s not going to sell a lot of tickets in Miami.

A junior, Johnson averaged the same 15.5 ppg. Moore, also a junior, was slightly better at 16.4.

All three of them have deficiencies in their game, which they could work on if they stayed in school. None of them are so outstanding that businessmen are lining up to make them millionaires.

When you compare them to the best players they’ll be competing with in the draft, guys like John Wall of Louisville and Evan Turner of Ohio State, Johnson, Hayward and Moore look like also-rans; good players, yes, but not that special. Nothing to get excited about.

The league they want to play in, the National Basketball Association, is wealthy and, to some people, glamorous, but it operates on very different assumptions than the college game.

College boys play 30 games a year; NBA’s season goes 82 games. That’s a lot more wear and tear on the body, and on the fans who are far more cynical and demanding. The right to boo comes with every $100 ticket. How many points would Hayward likely average over an 82-game season?

He’s a boy becoming a man; he’s not a man yet. He’s 20 years old. Johnson and Moore are 21—old enough to make their own decisions, yes, but young enough that they cannot know what they’re getting themselves into if they get drafted and turn pro.

I’m not sure any of them will get drafted; if I owned a team I wouldn’t pay them millions. (All of them have reserved the right to remain in college; wise decision.)

Instead of letting themselves get seduced by the possibility of big money, they ought to ask themselves, Where is the best place to use my talents? Where will I grow as a player and a person?

In the NBA’s thug-and-drug culture, or on campus?

Every one of them is a good student; Hayward and Moore are Academic All-Americans, an incredible achievement. Johnson is very articulate; he makes Purdue fans like me proud when he speaks. These are smart kids!

I admit as a Purdue fan I have an interest in keeping Johnson and Moore around for one more run at a National Championship. I don’t have a “vested” interest because my money’s not on the line; I have a rooting interest. My mother, grandfather and I are Purdue alumni; and yes, I would love to have our school (not our team, our school!) finally win it all.

Butler came so close this year; and wow, what an inspiring story their team was. The TV ratings for the championship game were the highest since 1999; a David-and-Goliath story for the ages. (Goliath won, though.)

Butler University has built its basketball team for the last decade and a half using homegrown talent, much as Purdue has, but without Purdue’s fame and money. Butler’s built a winning tradition with no-names like Hayward and Matt Howard, Avery Jukes, Zack Hahn, Shelvin Mack.

For years now Butler’s Bulldogs have slowly built a national reputation for winning, despite a succession of coaching changes. It’s a small school, and as soon as they do well another school comes along and steals Butler’s coach by offering more money.

—Money, the exact thing Hayward’s chasing now.

Sometimes the former Butler coach succeeds brilliantly, like Thad Matta at Ohio State. Sometimes the former Butler coach falls flat on his face, like Todd Lickliter at Iowa. He got fired because he could not reproduce The Butler Way at a school ten times bigger with its own way of doing things.

You have to match who you are and what you can do with the right environment. Are you listening, Gordon? E’twaun, JaJuan?

One of the lessons here is that money distorts a person’s thinking. Todd Lickliter had every intention of exporting The Butler Way to Iowa City. But he should have stayed at home. That million-dollar contract isn’t going to help him come September.

A young coach named Brad Stevens took over for him at Butler and took the Bulldogs all the way to the National Championship game. That could have been Lickliter, but it wasn’t. He’s now out of a job.

I don’t want that to happen to JaJuan, Gordon and E’twaun. I want them to play for 20 years, make millions of dollars and retire in glory—when they’re ready.

They’re not yet, and no one’s telling them so. They need to stay in school and use their brains as well as their bodies.

Myself I don’t care for the NBA game, which starts and ends with phony hype. “E’TWAUN… MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!” Puh-lease, he’s averaging 6.2 a game.

Meanwhile he gets exposed to hustlers and gamblers, groupies and ripoffs, when he’s a 21-year-old kid from East Chicago.

I especially don’t want Gordon exposed to all that.

He’s a religious kid from Brownsburg, a Christian kid, an innocent who loves his twin sister, a tennis player at Butler. I don’t want Gordon thrown into the lion’s den by being tempted with money.

He’s going to make lots of money in his life; it shouldn’t be this way. He needs two more years to learn how to face the hustlers and ripoffs.

He ought to stay home with his sister. That’s where he belongs.

With luck he’ll come to that same conclusion. With luck it’ll be Butler against Purdue for the National Championship, and all of them with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Oh, but what if they get hurt like Robbie Hummell did? What if they never get the chance at big bucks?

What if the sky falls down?

Money’s a drug, Gordon. It’s no surprise the pushers are coming after you.

Don’t succumb. That is, don’t die. Please!

NBA or not this year, you’re going to spend the rest of your life talking to your sister, not the hustlers and groupies and addicts and ripoffs.

Invest your emotional capital in her; then you’ll be ready when the time comes to face the lions.

Don’t do it, JaJuan; don’t throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for at the world-class university whose degree will open doors for you the rest of your life. The NBA will still be there a year from now, and you’ll be a better player.

Don’t do it, E’Twaun; please be aware that your intelligence is not the match you think it is against hustlers and criminals and thieves. They’re better at their game than you are at yours.

Make a statement, guys; be a kid. Stay in school.

And I hereby absolve all of you from any requirement that you win a national championship for my sake, or Mom’s or Granddad’s. My hopes are not relevant to your lives. You’ve got to live for yourselves and for God.

Ask God what you should do and be guided by the answer. I could be wrong; but I bet it’s a lot more important to God that you stick around for your total development than that you take off early to chase the bucks.

Whatever you decide I’ll support you; thanks for all the thrills you gave me this past year.++

My New TV Jinxed the Team

Robbie Hummel sidelined after his season-ending injury. (AJ Mast/Associated Press)

I did something very, very bad on February 24. I bought a TV, a 37-inch Vizio, high-def and all that.

The very same night the reason I bought it came crashing down. I should have known not to tempt the fates.

I haven’t watched TV since 1986. This makes me very weird, but it’s also made me a happier guy. Just think of all the commercials I haven’t seen—1.3 million of them.

Not watching TV is one of the best things a person can do for himself. I am now completely averse to violent images, and I only buy things I really want.

So what made me change? Purdue basketball, which I’ve followed since I was 7 years old. Purdue’s got a great team this year, ranked in the Top Ten all season long. I told myself, This could be the year we win it all.

Just once in my lifetime I want to see the Boilermakers win the National Championship. And if this is the year, I thought, I don’t want to miss it. So I broke down and bought a TV. It’s very nice, as TVs go. I called the cable company, which carries the Big Ten Network as well as ESPN; the cable was installed Feb. 24. At 8pm I sat down to watch Purdue play Minnesota, so excited I could have jumped out of my skin. About 9 minutes into the game, Purdue’s star forward Robbie Hummel blew out his knee and is gone for the rest of the year.

I’m very, very sorry, Robbie. I should never have broken the string. Your team would probably be getting a #1 seed tomorrow in the NCAA tournament if it weren’t for me. I’m hanging my head in shame. I apologize to Purdue people everywhere.

After all, I didn’t watch Drew Brees win the Super Bowl; I listened to the Saints beat the Colts on the radio and cheered my lungs out.

I listened to all those Purdue hoops on the radio; why couldn’t I have just waited until you made the Final Four? Why didn’t I just save my money and drive 30 miles to the nearest sports bar? I saw Purdue beat West Virginia there on New Year’s Day.

As it turns out, Purdue beat Minnesota that night after Hummel left the game, although the Boilers went into a total swoon after he left, and only pulled the victory out in the last minute. Since then, Purdue’s gone 3-1 to finish out the season, until this afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal—against Minnesota.

I sat in my big chair and watched; the Boilers scored all of 11 points in the first half. With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, the Gophers led by 30 and I hit the button, Power Off. I needed something more pleasant to do, so I scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.

Hey, it’s Lent, I’m supposed to do penance.

March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) is my favorite time of year. I fill out my bracket online and consistently beat 95% of The New York Times sports staff year after year.

So much for madness now; I’m mad at myself for screwing it up. There’s only one consolation in all this misery; Hummel’s a junior. He’ll have all the time he needs to rehab that knee (a torn ACL is a horrible, painful injury) and be able to come back for his senior season with his running mates JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the trio who’s responsible for that Top Ten ranking. Hope will be reborn next year. Chris Kramer, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, won’t be around, and he’s the #1 reason I wanted Purdue to win it all this time, but the one consolation is we’ll get another chance.

In the meantime I guess I’ll enjoy my sparkly clean floor.++

Purdue on Top in Big Ten

Dr. James H. Smart, president of Purdue and founder of the nation's first athletic conference, the Big Ten, in 1895.

Okay, now I’m certain the basketball gods are conspiring to bless my little heart. Purdue beat Ohio State and Illinois this week; OSU then went to East Lansing and walloped Michigan State—putting my beloved Boilermakers in sole possession of first place in the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, otherwise known as the Big Ten.

One favorable event is a random act; two are a coicidence. But when three similar things happen, you’ve got a pattern on your hands. I’m going to have to break down and buy a TV!

I haven’t watched the idiot box since Jack got sick in 1986; there just wasn’t time to take care of him, do his job and mine, cook and clean and pay the bills, plus turn into a couch potato every night. By the time I got done with my work, prime time was over. And I didn’t miss it. I blame television for everything that’s wrong with society; how else can you explain Sarah Palin?

Think of those thousands of commercials I missed!

But now the Boilers are sitting all alone on top of the standings in men’s basketball. That’s miracle #1, thanks to Keaton Grant’s 15 points off the bench Saturday against the Illini. (He equalled his season high of 13 three days earlier against the Buckeyes.)

Keaton Grant earlier this year. (Michael Conroy/AP)

As the 4th-ranked team in the country in both the AP and coaches’ polls (#3 as of tomorrow, I bet), the Boilers may receive a #1 seed in the Best Sports Event in the World (the NCAA Tournament) beginning in three weeks. The #1 seed receives the easiest path to regional victory and a chance at the Final Four. (That’s miracle #2.)

But now wait, because this third event is truly miraculous. I have just found out that the off-brand cable company that serves my hometown (pop. 1800) just 45 miles north of the Purdue campus has finally decided, after years of delay, there might be customers here for the Big Ten Network.

Crash, that’s the sound of me keeling over dead.

Obviously I’m old enough to remember when all Purdue basketball games were televised for free on one broadcast station, WTTV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis. But those days are gone, because businessmen figured out how to charge people money for what used to be free. (Gas stations now charge you to put air in your own tires, too.) Now, college basketball is scattered all over the pay-TV dial, from ESPN (1, 2, U and 360) to CBS to BTN. The only way to watch is with cable or satellite, and the only thing I have any interest in seeing is Purdue sports. Just think of all those reality TV shows I’ve missed. (I still wouldn’t recognize Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears if they walked up and kissed me on the mouth.)

Cable TV costs a minimum of $400 a year, and without the Big Ten Network I had no reason to subscribe.

Now, however, a miracle I’ve waited a lifetime for might actually take place: Purdue winning the National Championship next month in Indianapolis. I have to get cable; I owe it to myself not to miss this.

Of course, TV technology has changed, and my old analog TV, which I still have from the days when Jack would watch “Roseanne” back in the ’80s, and which weighs 90 pounds and isn’t worth moving, is out of date. I not only have to sign up for cable, I have to buy a new idiot box.

So I’ve been shopping online, and my my my, what pretty new boxes they have these days. They weigh less too.

I’ve found out about a new American manufacturer named Vizio, which makes TVs that use less energy, even below the standards of EnergyStar 3.0. They sell a 32-inch set with 1080 pixels and 120 Hz for a list price of $548; maybe less if I can find a good deal.

For $200 less you can get a Vizio 32-incher with 720 pixels and 60 Hz, but the pixels and refresh rate matter a lot in picture quality; since this is going to be the last TV I ever buy, let’s not be a cheapskate. OTOH, an extra 10 inches costs $200 more at $748, which is more than my house payment. What to do???

Let’s try dreaming.

Purdue Wins National Championship in High-Def!!!

That’s one way to look at it. Or:

purduelosesin2ndroundtono-name-u — in which case I don’t want to see it even in low-def.

Which do I think will happen?

The Boilers are #4 in the country, sitting atop the Big Ten with three games left to play. When Illinois took out JuJuan Johnson, Purdue’s high-scoring big man, yesterday, up came Grant off the bench; that’s the mark of a championship team, finding a way to win no matter what. Purdue’s riding a 9-game winning streak, after putting together a 14-game streak to start the season. (They had three straight losses in between.) They’re one of the hottest teams in the country, almost sure to get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even better, this year’s team is dominated by juniors: Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore. All of them will be back next year.

I think I’d better buy the best damn TV I can afford. This will be my last chance to see the cutest guy in basketball, Purdue senior Chris Kramer.

Life is a crapshoot. GO BOILERS!

The Secretary of Defense, Purdue's Chris Kramer. (Don Ryan/AP)

Purdue’s Kramer Up for Senior Class Award

Chris Kramer, the Secretary of Defense.

Tonight, one of the most important annual events in my home state occurs, as the Purdue men’s basketball team travels to Bloomington to take on that hated Other School.

(I laughed, typing that. The fans do hate each other, but right now my dog Luke is sleeping under his IU blanket. It is, of course, fit for a dog.)

The Boilermakers, ranked 7th in the country according to the coaches’ poll, are expected to beat the hapless Hoosiers, but it will probably be a knockdown dragout battle. You can catch it on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Eastern. I’ll be watching at the Colonial Inn downtown.

Both teams feature homegrown talent. Seven members of Indiana’s squad are in-state products, while Purdue boasts ten local boys—among them Chris Kramer of Huntington, who’s a finalist for the senior class award sponsored by a chain of home improvement stores. The winner is partly determined by fan voting; go here.

Kramer’s profile details a lot of things I didn’t know about his community involvement. He’s active with the Boys and Girls Club, an after-school agency for kids at risk. That means something to me, because it’s the favorite charity of my fictional hero Kent Kessler, a former Major League Baseball player. Boys and Girls Clubs provide sports and recreational opportunities to kids, as well as academic tutoring and mentoring, a chance to succeed. Sometimes the B&GC makes a difference in whether a kid stays in school or drops out, gets a decent job or turns criminal; a kid needs someone to take an interest in her, and Chris Kramer does.

He’s also active with the Southside Community Center (child abuse prevention, youth development, food pantry and family support) and Special Olympics. He majors in Organizational Development and Supervision at Purdue and carries a 3.12 cumulative grade point average.

He may not be that thrilled to be featured in a Gay Spirit Diary, but tough luck, bud. He’s awfully cute; this is not my fault. Best of all, he epitomizes what Purdue basketball is all about: tenacious defense, clutch shooting, self-sacrifice, teamwork, all while cutting it with the books.

I’m proud of him. I hope he has every success.

And let no reviewer on Amazon criticize the choice of a smart, principled, athletic hero; such men do exist, despite the all-pervasive culture that tries to drag them down. Every one of the Lowe’s senior all-stars deserves our accolades; Kramer’s just one of nine outstanding players who are becoming outstanding men. “Classroom. Community. Character. Competition.” — That’s the slogan for this website that hopes to do something good.

Go, vote for Chris Kramer or anyone else who strikes your fancy. In this age of horrible dehumanization, take a minute to reward some young guys for doing good. Text M7 to 74567.

Every photo I’ve ever seen of Kramer shows his tongue hanging out. I mean, what’s not to like? GO BOILERS!++

Kramer jogs off-court past Minnesota coach Tubby Smith after Kramer's halftime buzzer-beater. (Brent Drinkut/Journal and Courier)

LewJack Gives Boilers a Boost to Beat Wisconsin, 60-57

Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson (23) saw action tonight for the first time since pre-season foot surgery. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Okay, his two points weren’t that significant. He only played 12 minutes. Fouled twice and had two turnovers to go with three rebounds. But make no mistake, the return of starting point guard Lewis Jackson from preseason surgery provided an important emotional boost as his Purdue Boilermakers defended Keady Court at Mackey Arena tonight against #16 Wisconsin, 60-57.

The #10 Boilers needed this win. After a 14-0 start and an AP ranking as high as #4, Purdue went on a 3-game losing streak starting at Madison, Wisconsin January 9, as the Badgers beat Purdue 73-66. The Cornfield Sailors then proceeded to lose to Ohio State in West Lafayette and again at Northwestern. Swan dive or belly flop?

But now Purdue’s back to fundamentals, with a 3-game winning streak that includes victories at Illinois and against Michigan at home. Tonight’s game was a typical Big Ten seesaw bruise-fest; Purdue led by two at halftime, then went on a big run in the second half to lead by 8 with under 4 minutes to go. Typically, the disciplined Badgers raced right back to take a 7-point lead thanks to Keaton Nankivil’s 25 points on 7-of-8 three-point shooting. Such is life in the Big Ten, where if you get too big for your britches, you’ll get beat.

As Purdue Coach Matt Painter stressed to his high-flying team after it crashed down to earth earlier this month, “Success messes with you.” He’s so right. Life is littered with stars, from Janis Joplin to River Phoenix, who couldn’t cope with success. It can be terrifying; what if people find out the ten million things you don’t know and can’t do?

I am hoping that Painter is a better sports psychologist than his predecessor Gene Keady, “the best coach who never made it to the Final Four.” Keady was a mastermind at teaching kids how to play beyond their capabilities. It’s a trait he passed on to his mentee Matt Painter, who played for him from ’79-’83.

The biggest trap in sports is something I call “ego collapse.” You’re doing well, doing well, doing well, then all of a sudden you’re not—and you panic. Out goes the game plan, out goes what you’re good at, and in comes an anxiety attack and even stupid play. Purdue has always been prone to this. Keady, a superb coach and human being, never knew what to say or do to right the ship. It’s hard for older men to coach young guys. So much has changed between his day and theirs that an older coach suddenly lacks the vocabulary when adversity strikes.

Matt Painter is 39. He’s brought this year’s Boilermakers to the brink of real success—watched them falter, and brought them back. Purdue beat gritty, talented Wisconsin tonight, and is now a half-game out of second place behind Wisconsin and undefeated Michigan State.

So the surprise return of Lewis Jackson, after a fast and splendid recovery, is what the experts call an intangible. It’s always good to get one of your key teammates back. The last thought before the players fall asleep tonight will be, “LewJack’s back.” Then they’ll smile and make Z’s.

Their next to last thought will be, “Thank you God for John Hart.”

Purdue's John Hart (32) and Robbie Hummel (4) defend as Illinois' Mike Davis (24) goes to the basket at Assembly Hall in Champaign on Jan. 19. Purdue won 84-78. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)

Hart provided as much emotional spark in the second half as Jackson did in the first. In a short stretch early in the second half as Purdue clung to a narrow lead, he led to an amazing run, doing everything you could ask of a player; he scored, defended, rebounded and blocked. Suddenly he was everywhere on every key play, and the veterans took over from there.

Basketball is emotional; all sports are. John Madden once said he thought football was the most emotional sport, but that’s simply not true. In American football, you run a play, then spend 20 seconds huddling up to discuss the next one. Hoops don’t stop nearly as much, the play keeps going. You’ve got the ball, then there’s a turnover and steal, suddenly you’re running the other way—but the shooter misses, you get the rebound, so run back again! Go go go!

The faster the game, the harder it is for players to keep their emotions in check, to not get too high or too low. The only game as fast and continuous as basketball is hockey—which uses goalies to prevent scoring, the dumbest athletic idea of all time. Audiences like scoring, and goal-tending is illegal in hoops. I wouldn’t give you one thin dime for soccer, no matter how much British thugs riot over it. Would you rather watch a game where the final score is 2-1 or 60-57, much less 102-101?

Hart was superb tonight; he played his role. He’s just a sophomore having to earn his time, but he brought fluid to the charcoal and lit a fire.

I haven’t even mentioned Robbie Hummel, who had a double-double (12 points, 13 fabulous rebounds) or E’twaun Moore (20 points) or JuJuan Johnson (14 points). Give them all credit; they each had their miscues but they played well enough to win despite Nankivil’s personal highlight reel.

Wisconsin’s backcourt combined for 57 points January 9 at Madison; Purdue’s defense held them to 25 tonight.

Losses help you learn; they toughen you up, so that success after success doesn’t make your head swell, knowing that failure is just around the corner. Don’t get too high when you’re high or too low when you’re low, just focus on your next opponent and find a way to beat ’em.

One last note about another man who established himself tonight: Purdue radio broadcaster Larry Clisby’s new sidekick, Ralph Taylor, who played from ’67-’69 on the National Runner-up team. He’s been part of the Purdue radio team off and on for four years, but (I believe) this year he replaced the previous color commentator, Steve Reid, the guy Bobby Knight threw a chair at (okay, deliberately missing), inadvertently becoming a YouTube sensation. Reid’s grammar was appalling, much less for a Purdue alumnus, but he knew the game and was an unabashed homer, and I liked him. Now we’ve got this guy named Taylor, the first African-American on Purdue’s broadcast team. I must have seen him play back in the late ’60s during the Rick Mount years (I went to Purdue ’68-’69 and ’70-’72), but I don’t remember him. From tonight, though, I will. He explained, time after time, how Nankivil scored all those points. Purdue’s Johnson repeatedly left the high post to help out a guard, which left Nankivil uncovered, and no one rotated over. Time after time!

Without Nankivil, Purdue might have blown out Wisconsin. But Johnson got suckered every time, and Wilson tracked the pattern. He added a lot to the broadcast.

So bye-bye Wisconsin and Nankovil, great game and yeah yeah; we won’t be surprised to see you again in the B10 tournament or the NCAA. But I’ll be very surprised if Matt Painter doesn’t kick ass and massage his boys into understanding: Success messes with you, but only if you let it. Stay centered, do what you’re good at, don’t panic, never say die, screw ’em if they can’t take a joke, and stay confident even when (as they did tonight) the refs call the second half completely different from the first half. The officials started acting like they got paid by the number of fouls they called (though the teams ended up equal).

It’s hard on players when the rules seem to change at halftime, but they’ve got to roll with the punches.

Star of the game: Hummel. Best performance: Ninkivil. Best analyst: Taylor. Winner: Purdue.++

Mr. Taylor

Badgers Knock the Boilers Down a Peg or Two, 73-66

Jordan Taylor against Duke. (Wisconsin State Journal)

It’s a cold, cold day in northern Indiana. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing since well before Christmas, and the #4 Purdue Boilermakers lost to #17 Wisconsin this afternoon in Madison, breaking their record-tying win streak at 14.

No Big Ten fans can be terribly surprised by this; Bo Ryan’s a great coach, Wisconsin’s a tough team and it’s very hard to win on the road in the power conferences. The Badgers outplayed Purdue today, led by Jordan Taylor, who had a career day with 23 points. The bench play from Wisconsin (33 points) was outstanding, and the Cheesehead guards shot the lights out.

Still, it’s a very disappointing loss for Purdue fans; the Boilermakers beat themselves in the most fundamental aspect of the game, free throw shooting. Every one of them native-born Hoosiers deserves a whuppin’.

JaJuan Johnson (7 miserable points, 1 of 7 free throws), I don’t even want to see your face for a week. Robbie Hummel (3 of 13 field goals), your little white ass is gonna turn red.

Free throws win ballgames! Wisconsin made them and Purdue did not.

Even Chris Kramer ought to be tossed in the dungeon with the Ledermeister. What a sorry spectacle to start off 2010.

In a free throw, here’s what happens. You have been fouled; an opposing player made an illegal move against you, so the clock stops. You get the ball; you walk to the free throw line, which is 19 feet from the baseline, 15 feet from the basket. You get to shoot the ball with no one opposing you. Your shot is free! There is no one opposing you whatsoever. Your opponents are required to stay away from the basket while you shoot. They can’t even move until your ball touches the rim.

Because of these rules, players who decide to become good free throw shooters (that decision is the essential ingredient) can practice the same motion over and over and over until they get it right. There isn’t a damn thing your opponent can do to stop you; you get to shoot for free.

Hoosier schoolboys excel at free throws, because in basketball, every last point you score matters. Many games are decided by one point. Championships rise or fall on free throw shooting.

It’s both the least glamorous and the most important aspect of the game; you get a throw that’s free. Judas Priest, get it through your thick head!

However, many modern players don’t like practicing free throws, because they never get on SportsCenter by successfully converting a static play. TV demands action, motion, bodies moving, a picture that mesmerizes the couch potatoes. Casual fans don’t like free throws, because they stop the action; and casual fans are where the money gets made by TV networks, teams and stars. Hardcore fans will watch every aspect of a game, but casual fans doze off. Nothing is happening, so they grab another beer and a bag of pretzels, even though the game itself hangs in the balance.

Wisconsin was superb at the charity stripe today. Purdue sucked. JuJuan, get the fuck out. You’re not even allowed to get your ass beat by the Ledermeister.

Here’s why free throws should matter to Indiana schoolboys; for reasons historical, ethnic, cultural, biological and demographic, we tend not to be very tall, when basketball is a game that rewards height. The closer you can get to the basket the more likely you are to score.

Like all Americans, Indiana kids are slowly getting taller as evolution and better nutrition make that possible. Any given kid might be tall (Hummel’s 6’8″), but as a group we tend to lag behind a bit, especially in rural areas, where shorter moms and dads hook up and produce shorter babies. I’m 5’5″—and taller than both my parents. It’s still rare in my hometown to come across a 6-footer, even though kids are taller these days.

Thus it’s in the interest of Hoosier schoolboys who want to get good at basketball to become very, very skilled at sinking foul shots. It’s a way to overcome our natural disadvantage; no defense allowed!

So today Johnson missed and missed and missed; Hummel hit his freebies but missed everything else, Kramer missed, none of them were any good. Wisconsin won by 7 points; Purdue missed 11 free throws, for no good reason. I’m disgusted. I’d whup ’em all if I could.

Though I admit I’d start with Kramer, easily the hottest stud of the bunch. 🙂

I mean, it’s not like they grow ’em any taller in Wisconsin!

Maybe the colder it is, the more isolated the bleak and lonely landscape, the more inclined schoolboys are to practice free throws and perfect their move. The Badgers missed 5 (22 of 27) today, the Boilers missed 11 (13 of 24).

I swear, I’d take a belt to every one of these Purdue kids. Our freshmen played like freshmen; Wisconsin’s played like men. Purdue will drop in the rankings, even though it isn’t a bad loss. Now we will see whether Hummel, Johnson, E’Twaun Moore (24 points, Purdue’s only real offense), Kramer and the abysmal Keaton Grant (4 lousy points in 18 minutes) have learned they are not invincible. I bet coach Matt Painter chews ’em a new one and makes it personalized.

Myself, I’d just throw ’em all in a cage with the Ledermeister. It’s time somebody made a man out of ’em.++

Oldie but goodie.

Purdue Beats Minnesota’s Full-Court Press, 79-60; Equals Best Start in School History

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are a damn good team. Coached by National Champion Tubby Smith (Kentucky 1998), the Gophers’ full-court press pushed Purdue hard before falling 79-60. This year’s Cornfield Sailors have tied the best start by the Boilermakers in school history, and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson is suddenly getting ink again. Fourth-ranked Purdue is 14-0.

Minnesota forced more Purdue turnovers than any other team this season. Purdue’s made fewer mistakes this year than any other team I can remember, 7, 9, 10, 6; the Boilermakers have been outstanding in not beating themselves. But Minnesota has been almost as careful handling the ball, with only 12 turnovers average. They forced Purdue into 17 tonight. This Gopher team is going to do some damage in the Big Ten.

Still Purdue won at home by 19. They did it by crashing the boards and shooting well. Four Boilers scored in double figures (Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, E’twaun Moore, Chris Kramer), with Hummel and Johnson recording double-doubles (11 and 10 rebounds). I can’t remember the last time Purdue had two players making double-doubles; it’s a rare achievement, denoting a well-rounded game.

Minnesota is known for its rebounding, but they only beat Purdue by two in that category. Meanwhile Chris Kramer, Purdue’s Secretary of Defense, scored a season-high 15 points. In his last game against #6 West Virginia, Kramer didn’t score, but tonight he came up big. This was Purdue’s 500th win at Mackey Arena.

The Boilers broke out to an 8-0 lead, then the Gophers stormed back to take the lead, before falling bigtime. Kramer hit his first 3-pointer of the season to close out the half.

Kramer jogs off-court past Minnesota coach Tubby Smith after Kramer's halftime buzzer-beater. (Brent Drinkut/Journal and Courier)

This team feels nothing like Robinson’s ’93-’94 team; he was a dominant player. This year’s Purdue squad doesn’t have any first-round NBA draft picks, but it wins just like Robinson’s buddies did.

No doubt coach Matt Painter is going to have a lot to jaw about this week in practice; 17 turnovers, including two straight unforced errors by Johnson in the second half. Purdue’s got plenty of room for improvement as they head to Madison on Saturday to face #20 Wisconsin. The days of wine and roses are over, baby; you’ve got to work hard to beat the Badgers at home. They don’t like you up there. (Wisconsin fans are some of my favorites in the Big Ten.)

Meanwhile this W over the Gophers is a win to savor. Hummel and Johnson with double-doubles, Kramer with 15. Four guys in double figures!

Wow. These Indiana schoolboys are shocking the nation, because they play like a team. “Oh,” the skeptics say, “that’s nice. But wait till Purdue has to play Kansas (Kentucky, Texas, Duke, yadda yadda).” So much of college basketball hangs on a school’s past reputation rather than this year’s play. The traditional powers rule as much by what a school did 10, 20 and 50 years ago as by what they do today. The AP poll is especially bad at this; the coaches’ poll is more reliable. Purdue is ranked 4th by both, but what’s the objective fact? The RPI shows Purdue at #4, Kansas at 7, Texas at 13 and Kentucky at 15. The RPI has West Virginia at #1—the same Mountaineer squad the Boilermakers blew out at Mackey Arena on Friday.

But here’s the best news in this still-young season: ESPN’s latest Bracketology shows Purdue rated the #1 seed going into the NCAA Tournament. This could be the year, baby. This could be the year.++