That is exactly what happened with former Purdue All-American center Joe Barry Carroll, who led the 1980 Boilermakers to the program's most recent Final Four appearance and then went on to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 1980 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
Carroll, who ranks second to Rick Mount in Purdue career scoring with 2,175 points, returned to campus this weekend to be honored by the Boilermakers during what became a special 82-64 victory against rival Indiana in Mackey Arena.
A financial investment manager since retiring from the NBA 23 years ago, Carroll recently began painting and writing, and displayed his art and sold his new book while back on the campus where the Denver native became a legend playing for Fred Schaus and then Lee Rose from 1976 through 1980.
Quiet and rarely willing to speak with the media as a Purdue player, the 7-foot center has become quite talkative and reflective now that he is on the far side of 50.
"The art and literature is something for me in the last few years," Carroll said. "I began to paint, and also was journaling. Through the journals, I began to see myself enjoying writing. So, I began to move toward doing the memoir (Growing Up ... In Words and Images).
"I did surprise myself. We really don"t know what is in inside of us. I didn't know that I had that much inside of me. I have gotten some really good responses from some people whose opinions I respect. I am grateful for it. I have a life of gratitude."
Carroll's journey to Indiana from Denver was a rare and unique one.
Purdue had gone to Denver to see Lavon Williams, who ended up going to Kentucky. Former Purdue assistant coach Roger Blalock was there to see Williams and also decided to watch Carroll play. Carroll was a late bloomer and had not been heavily recruited.
Blalock invited Carroll to visit Purdue, and the university had everything the center was seeking in a college. He liked Purdue's academics and liked the players on the Boilermaker roster.
During his senior season, Carroll led Purdue to the Final Four in Indianapolis, losing a heartbreaker to UCLA in the semifinals before beating Iowa in the third-place game with Carroll scoring 40 points.
"When you are in the moment of the Final Four, it's kind of difficult, because it is hard to know how important all of that is," Carroll said. "As the years have gone by, I do realize we were the last ones to do that. It was a special time with special guys on the team and a special experience.
"You need to go a couple of times, because the first time, it's overwhelming. You come from this kind of closed environment that we have day-to-day in college, and then you have all of this media and 10,000 people watching you practice. It's a big deal and a great experience."
Purdue coach Matt Painer, who was 9 and an impressionable kid growing up in Muncie when Carroll led the 1980 Boilermakers to the Final Four, was happy Carroll returned to campus this weekend from his Atlanta home to visit with the current team and be honored by a sellout crowd Saturday in Mackey, where Carroll watched his alma mater crush Indiana.
"Obviously, he has a big spot in Purdue basketball history," Painter said. "He led his team to a Final Four and was the first pick in the (1980) NBA Draft. His accomplishments obviously speak for themselves.
"As a coach, you are excited to get a guy like that back on campus. Having Joe Barry Carroll Day is a big day, especially when you are playing your rival Indiana."
Carroll's favorite Purdue basketball moment is beating 1979 NCAA tournament champion Michigan State, which was led by Magic Johnson. Forward Arnette Hallman's shot at the buzzer won it for the Boilermakers in Mackey Arena.
"Arnette shot this ball from the parking lot, and it went in," Carroll said. "it was just the most incredible thing to experience in college.
"There may have been some elaborate play drawn up, and I am pretty sure it was with coach Rose because he sees the game in a different way. He had designed something that was going to give us that opportunity, but players ultimately take over with their instinct and their emotion. Maybe Arnette didn't have the option that he thought he did. It hit nothing but the bottom. it was insane.
"All is well that ends well."
And Carroll thoroughly enjoyed his battles against Indiana, including a victory in the 1980 Sweet Sixteen in Lexington, Ky., that helped Purdue on its path to the Final Four.
"The one thing I remember consistently is that the players want to go to the arena early on this day," Carroll said. "They get up early, and they go to the game early. They can not wait to go and try to beat the red off of IU.
"I don't know where it comes from, maybe the old Hatfields and the McCoys thing, because it was here when I got here from Colorado in 1976, and it is powerful. It is a great rivalry. I tease IU people and tell them, "Did you ever get over not being able to get into Purdue?" Basketball star. Economist. Painter. Now author. Joe Barry Carroll is indeed a Purdue icon.